Skip to main content

Full text of "Rene Guenon english pdf"

See other formats

The Reign of Quantity 
SC the Signs of the Times 

Rene Guenon 







Lord Northbourne 



Originally published in French as 
Le Regtte de la Quantite et les Signes des Temps 
© Editions Gallimard 1945 
Fourth, revised edition 2001 
Second Impression 2004 
Third edition, Sophia Perennis, Ghent, 1995 
Second edition, Penguin Books, Baltimore, 1972 
First edition, Luzac & Co., London, 1953 
English translation © Sophia Perennis 2001 
All rights reserved 

Series editor: James R. Wetmore 

No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted, 
in any form or by any means, without permission 

For information, address: 

Sophia Perennis, P.O. Box 611 
Hillsdale NY 12529 

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data 
Guenon, Rene 

[R£gne de la quantity et les signes des temps. English] 

The reign of quantity and the signs of the times / Rene Guenon ; 
translated by Lord Northbourne — 4th, rev. ed. 

p. cm. — (Collected works of Rene Guenon) 

Includes index. 

isbn 0 900588 67 5 (pbk: alk. paper) 
isbn o 900588 68 3 (cloth: alk. paper) 

1. Materialism — Miscellanea. 2. Civilization, Modern — Philosophy - 
Miscellanea. I. Title. 

BD701.G813 2001 
291.2 — dc2i 



Editorial Note xi 
Introduction 1 

1 Quality and Quantity n 

2 Materia Signata Quantitate 16 

3 Measure and Manifestation 23 

4 Spatial Quantity and Qualified Space 31 

5 The Qualitative Determinations of Time 38 

6 The Principle of Individuation 45 

7 Uniformity against Unity 49 

8 Ancient Crafts and Modern Industry 55 

9 The Twofold Significance of Anonymity 62 

10 The Illusion of Statistics 68 

11 Unity and ‘Simplicity’ 74 

12 The Hatred of Secrecy 82 

13 The Postulates of Rationalism 89 

14 Mechanism and Materialism 96 

15 The Illusion of ‘Ordinary Life’ 101 

16 The Degeneration of Coinage 107 

17 The Solidification of the World 113 

18 Scientific Mythology and Popularization 120 

19 The Limits of History and Geography 128 

20 From Sphere to Cube 137 

21 Cain and Abel 144 


The Significance of Metallurgy 152 


Time changed into Space 159 


Toward Dissolution 165 


The Fissures in the Great Wall 172 


Shamanism and Sorcery 177 

2 7 

Psychic Residues 185 


The Successive Stages in Anti-Traditional Action 191 


Deviation and Subversion 197 


The Inversion of Symbols 202 


Tradition and Traditionalism 208 


Neo-Spiritualism 215 


Contemporary Intuitionism 220 


The Misdeeds of Psychoanalysis 227 


The Confusion of the Psychic and the Spiritual 235 


Pseudo-Initiation 241 


The Deceptiveness of ‘Prophecies’ 252 


From Anti-Tradition to Counter-Tradition 



The Great Parody: or Spirituality Inverted 



The End of a World 275 
Index 281 


The past century has witnessed an erosion of earlier cultural 
values as well as a blurring of the distinctive characteristics of the 
world’s traditional civilizations, giving rise to philosophic and moral 
relativism, multiculturalism, and dangerous fundamentalist reac- 
tions. As early as the 1920s, the French metaphysician Rene Guenon 
(1886-1951) had diagnosed these tendencies and presented what he 
believed to be the only possible reconciliation of the legitimate, al- 
though apparently conflicting, demands of outward religious forms, 
‘exoterisms’, with their essential core, ‘esoterism’. His works are char- 
acterized by a foundational critique of the modern world coupled 
with a call for intellectual reform; a renewed examination of meta- 
physics, the traditional sciences, and symbolism, with special refer- 
ence to the ultimate unanimity of all spiritual traditions; and finally, 
a call to the work of spiritual realization. Despite their wide influ- 
ence, translation of Guenon’s works into English has so far been 
piecemeal. The Sophia Perennis edition is intended to fill the urgent 
need to present them in a more authoritative and systematic form. A 
complete list of Guenon’s works, given in the order of their original 
publication in French, follows this note. 

The Reign of Quantity gives a concise but comprehensive view of 
the present state of affairs in the world, as it appears from the point 
of view of the ‘ancient wisdom’, formerly common both to the East 
and to the West, but now almost entirely lost sight of. The author 
indicates with his fabled clarity and directness the precise nature of 
the modern deviation, and devotes special attention to the develop- 
ment of modern philosophy and science, and to the part played by 
them, with their accompanying notions of progress and evolution, 
in the formation of the industrial and democratic society which 
we now regard as ‘normal’. Guenon sees history as a descent from 
Form (or Quality) toward Matter (or Quantity); but after the Reign 
of Quantity — modern materialism and the ‘rise of the masses’ — 


Guenon predicts a reign of ‘inverted quality’ just before the end of 
the age: the triumph of the ‘counter-initiation, the kingdom of Anti- 
christ. This text is considered the magnum opus among Guenon’s 
texts of civilizational criticism, as is Symbols of Sacred Science among 
his studies on symbols and cosmology, and Man and His Becoming 
according to the Vedanta among his more purely metaphysical works. 

Guenon often uses words or expressions set off in ‘scare quotes’. 
To avoid clutter, single quotation marks have been used throughout. 
As for transliterations, Guenon was more concerned with phonetic 
fidelity than academic usage. The system adopted here reflects the 
views of scholars familiar both with the languages and Guenon’s 
writings. Brackets indicate editorial insertions, or, within citations, 
Guenon’s additions. Wherever possible, references have been up- 
dated, and English editions substituted. 

The present translation is a revised version of that made by Lord 
Northbourne for the original edition, and the publisher would like 
to thank Christopher James Northbourne, the translators’s son, for 
his help, encouragement, and permission to work from his father’s 
text. For additional editorial help and proofreading, thanks go to 
John Ahmed Herlihy, Brian Latham, and Allan Dewar; and for Ara- 
bic transliterations, to Prof S.H. Nasr. A special debt of thanks is 
owed to Cecil Bethell, who revised and proofread the text at several 
stages and provided the index. Cover design by Michael Buchino 
and Gray Henry, based on a drawing of a shell disk preserved in the 
Peabody Museum, by Guenon’s friend and collaborator Ananda K. 



Introduction to the Study 
of the Hindu Doctrines (1921) 

Theosophy: History of 
a Pseudo -Religion (1921) 

The Spiritist Fallacy (1923) 

East and West (1924) 

Man and His Becoming 
according to the Vedanta (1925) 

The Esoterism of Dante (1925) 

The Crisis of the Modern World 


The King of the World (1927) 

Spiritual Authority and 
Temporal Power (1929) 

The Symbolism of the Cross (1931) 

The Multiple States of the Being 

The Reign of Quantity and 
the Signs of the Times (1945) 

Perspectives on Initiation (1946) 

The Great Triad (1946) 

The Metaphysical Principles of 
the Infinitesimal Calculus (1946) 

Initiation and Spiritual 
Realization (1952) 

Insights into Christian 
Esoterism (1954) 

Symbols of Sacred Science (1962) 

Studies in Freemasonry 
and the Compagnonnage (1964) 

Studies in Hinduism (1966) 

Traditional Forms and Cosmic 
Cycles (1970) 

Insights into Islamic Esoterism 
and Taoism (1973) 

Reviews (1973) 

Miscellanea (1976) 


Since the time when The Crisis of the Modern World was writ- 
ten, the march of events has only served to confirm, all too com- 
pletely and all too quickly, the validity of the outlook on the present 
situation that was adopted in that book, although the subject mat- 
ter was then dealt with independently of all preoccupation with 
immediate ‘actuality’ as well as of any intention toward a vain and 
barren ‘critique’. Indeed, it goes without saying that considerations 
of that order are worth nothing except insofar as they represent an 
application of principles to certain particular circumstances; and it 
may also be noted in passing that if those who have formed the tru- 
est judgment of the errors and insufficiencies of the mentality of 
our times have generally maintained toward them a purely negative 
attitude, or have only departed from that attitude to propose virtu- 
ally insignificant remedies quite inadequate to cope with the grow- 
ing disorder in all domains, it is because a knowledge of true 
principles has been just as lacking in their case as it has been in the 
case of those who have persisted in admiring a so-called ‘progress’ 
and in deluding themselves as to its fatal outcome. 

Besides, even from a purely disinterested and ‘theoretical’ point of 
view, it is not enough to denounce errors and to show them up for 
what they really are; useful though that may be, it is still more 
interesting and instructive to explain them, that is to say to investi- 
gate how and why they have come about; for everything that has any 
kind of existence, even error, has necessarily its reason for existence, 
and disorder itself must in the end find its place among the elements 
of universal order. Thus, whereas the modern world considered in 
itself is an anomaly and even a sort of monstrosity, it is no less true 
that, when viewed in relation to the whole historical cycle of which 
it is a part, it corresponds exactly to the conditions pertaining to a 
certain phase of that cycle, the phase that the Hindu tradition speci- 
fies as the final period of the Kali-Yuga. It is these conditions, arising 


as a consequence of the development of the cycle’s manifestation, 
that have determined its peculiar characteristics, and from this 
point of view it is clear that the present times could not be otherwise 
than they actually are. Nonetheless, it is evident that if disorder is to 
be seen as an element of order, or if error is to be reduced to a par- 
tial and distorted aspect of some truth, it is necessary to place one- 
self above the level of the contingencies of the domain to which that 
disorder and those errors as such belong; similarly, in order to grasp 
the true significance of the modern world in the light of the cyclical 
laws governing the development of the present terrestrial humanity, 
it is necessary to be entirely detached from the mentality that is its 
special characteristic and to avoid being affected by it in the least 
degree. This is the more evident in that the said mentality implies of 
necessity, and as it were by definition, a complete ignorance of the 
laws in question, as well as of all other truths which, being more or 
less directly derived from transcendent principles, are essentially 
part of traditional knowledge; all characteristically modern concep- 
tions are, consciously or unconsciously, a direct and unqualified 
denial of that knowledge. 

For some time past the author has had it in mind to follow up the 
Crisis of the Modern World with a work of a more strictly ‘doctrinal’ 
character, in order to set out with more precision certain aspects of 
the explanation of the present period given in the earlier book, in 
conformity with the strictly traditional point of view, which will 
always be adhered to; in the present case it is, for the very reasons 
already given, not merely the only valid point of view, but it might 
even be said to be the only point of view possible, since no such 
explanation could be imagined apart from it. Various circumstances 
have delayed the realization of that project up till now, but this is 
beside the point for anyone who is sure that everything that must 
happen necessarily happens in its due time, and often in ways both 
unforeseen and completely independent of our will. The feverish 
haste with which our contemporaries approach everything they do 
is powerless against this law and can produce only agitation and dis- 
order, that is to say effects which are wholly negative; but would 
these people still be ‘moderns’ if they were capable of understanding 
the advantages of following the indications given by circumstances 


that, far from being ‘fortuitous’ — as their ignorance leads them to 
suppose — are basically nothing but more or less particularized 
expressions of the general order, an order at the same time both 
human and cosmic, with which we are compelled to integrate our- 
selves either voluntarily or involuntarily? 

Among the features characteristic of the modern mentality, the 
tendency to bring everything down to an exclusively quantitative 
point of view will be taken from now on as the central theme of this 
study. This tendency is most marked in the ‘scientific’ conceptions 
of recent centuries; but it is almost as conspicuous in other do- 
mains, notably in that of social organization — so much so that, 
with one reservation the nature and necessity of which will appear 
hereafter, our period could almost be defined as being essentially 
and primarily the ‘reign of quantity’. This characteristic is chosen in 
preference to any other, not solely nor even principally because it 
is one of the most evident and least contestable, but above all 
because of its truly fundamental nature, for reduction to the quan- 
titative is strictly in conformity with the conditions of the cyclic 
phase at which humanity has now arrived; and also because it is the 
particular tendency in question that leads logically to the lowest 
point of the ‘descent’ that proceeds continuously and with ever- 
increasing speed from the beginning to the end of a Manvantara, 
that is to say throughout the whole course of the manifestation of a 
humanity such as ours. This ‘descent’, as has often been pointed out 
on previous occasions, is but a gradual movement away from the 
principle, which is necessarily inherent in any process of manifesta- 
tion; in our world, by reason of the special conditions of existence 
to which it is subject, the lowest point takes on the aspect of pure 
quantity, deprived of every qualitative distinction; it goes without 
saying that this point represents strictly speaking a limit, and that is 
why it is not legitimate to speak otherwise than of a ‘tendency’, for, 
during the actual course of the cycle, the limit can never be reached 
since it is as it were outside and beneath any existence, either real- 
ized or even realizable. 

We come now to a matter of particular importance which must 
be established from the outset, both in order to avoid possible mis- 
conceptions and in order to dispose in advance of a possible source 


of delusion, namely the fact that, by virtue of the law of analogy, the 
lowest point is as it were the obscure reflection or the inverted 
image of the highest point, from which follows the consequence, 
paradoxical only in appearance, that the most complete absence of 
all principle implies a sort of ‘counterfeit’ of the principle itself, 
something that has been expressed in a ‘theological’ form in the 
words ‘satan is the ape of God.’ A proper appreciation of this fact 
can help greatly toward the understanding of some of the darkest 
enigmas of the modern world, enigmas which that world itself 
denies because though it carries them in itself it is incapable of per- 
ceiving them, and because this denial is an indispensable condition 
for the maintenance of the special mentality whereby it exists. If our 
contemporaries as a whole could see what it is that is guiding them 
and where they are really going, the modern world would at once 
cease to exist as such, for the ‘rectification’ that has often been 
alluded to in the author’s other works could not fail to come about 
through that very circumstance; on the other hand, since this ‘recti- 
fication’ presupposes arrival at the point at which the ‘descent’ is 
completely accomplished, where ‘the wheel stops turning’ — at least 
for the instant marking the passage from one cycle to another — it is 
necessary to conclude that, until this point is actually attained, it is 
impossible that these things should be understood by men in gen- 
eral, but only by the small number of those who are destined to pre- 
pare, in one way or in another, the germs of the future cycle. It is 
scarcely necessary to say that everything that the author has set out 
in this book and elsewhere is intended to be addressed exclusively to 
these few, without any concern for the inevitable incomprehension 
of the others; it is true that these others are, and still must be for a 
certain time to come, an immense majority, but then it is precisely 
in the ‘reign of quantity’, and only then, that the opinion of the 
majority can claim to be taken into consideration at all. 

However that may be, it is particularly desirable before going any 
further to apply the principle outlined above to a more limited 
sphere than that to which it has just been applied. It must serve to 
dispel any confusion between the point of view of traditional sci- 
ence and that of profane science, especially as certain outward simi- 
larities may appear to lend themselves to such confusion. These 


similarities often arise only from inverted correspondences; for 
whereas traditional science envisages essentially the higher of the 
corresponding terms and allows no more than a relative value to the 
lower term, and then only by virtue of its correspondence with the 
higher term, profane science on the other hand only takes account of 
the lower term, and being incapable of passing beyond the domain 
to which it is related, claims to reduce all reality to it. Thus, to take 
an example directly connected with the subject of this book, the 
Pythagorean numbers, envisaged as the principles of things, are by 
no means numbers as understood by the moderns, whether 
mathematicians or physicists, just as principial immutability is by 
no means the immobility of a stone, nor true unity the uniformity of 
beings denuded of all their qualities; nonetheless, because numbers 
are in question in both cases, the partisans of an exclusively 
quantitative science have not failed to reckon the Pythagoreans as 
among their ‘precursors’. So as not unduly to anticipate develop- 
ments to follow, only this much need be said here, namely that this is 
but one more instance of the fact that the profane sciences of which 
the modern world is so proud are really and truly only the 
degenerate ‘residues’ of the ancient traditional sciences, just as 
quantity itself, to which they strive to reduce everything, is, when 
considered from their special point of view, no more than the 
‘residue’ of an existence emptied of everything that constituted its 
essence; thus these pretended sciences, by leaving aside or even 
intentionally eliminating all that is truly essential, clearly prove 
themselves incapable of furnishing the explanation of anything 

Just as the traditional science of numbers is quite a different thing 
from the profane arithmetic of the moderns, including all the alge- 
braic or other extensions of which the latter is capable, so there is 
also a ‘sacred geometry’ no less profoundly different from the ‘aca- 
demic’ science nowadays designated by the same name. There is no 
need to insist at length on this point, for those who have read the 
author’s earlier works, in particular The Symbolism of the Cross, will 
call to mind many references to the symbolical geometry in ques- 
tion, and they will have been able to see for themselves how far it 
lends itself to the representation of realities of a higher order, at least 


to the extent that those realities are capable of being represented in a 
form accessible to the senses; and besides, are not geometrical forms 
fundamentally and necessarily the very basis of all figured or 
graphic’ symbolism, from that of the alphabetical and numerical 
characters of all languages to that of the most complex and appar- 
ently strange initiatic yantras ? It is easy to understand that this kind 
of symbolism can give rise to an indefinite multiplicity of applica- 
tions; and it should be equally clear that such a geometry, very far 
from being related only to pure quantity, is on the contrary essen- 
tially qualitative. The same can be said of the true science of num- 
bers, for the principial numbers, though they must be referred to as 
numbers by analogy, are situated relatively to our world at the pole 
opposite to that at which are situated the numbers of common 
arithmetic; the latter are the only numbers the moderns know, and 
on them they turn all their attention, thus taking the shadow for the 
reality, like the prisoners in Plato’s cave. 

The present study is designed to provide a further and more 
complete demonstration of what, in a very general sense, is the true 
nature of these traditional sciences, thus bringing into prominence 
the abyss separating them from the profane sciences, which are 
something like a caricature or parody of them. This in turn will 
make it possible to measure the extent of the decadence undergone 
by the modern mentality in passing from one to the other; it will 
also indicate, by correctly situating the objects taken into account 
by each science, how this decadence follows strictly the downward 
movement of the cycle now being passed through by our humanity. 
Let it be clear however that these are questions nobody can ever 
claim to treat completely, for they are by their very nature inex- 
haustible; but an attempt will be made to say enough to enable any- 
one to draw the necessary conclusions so far as the determination of 
the ‘cosmic moment’ corresponding to the present period is con- 
cerned. If, however, a proportion of the matters to be dealt with 
nevertheless continues to appear obscure to some people, that will 
only be because the point of view ^adopted fails to conform to their 
mental habits, and is too foreign to everything that has been incul- 
cated into them by the education they have received and by the 
environment in which they live; nothing can be done about this, for 


there are things for which a symbolical mode of expression properly 
so called is the only one possible, and which will consequently never 
be understood by those for whom symbolism is a dead letter. It 
must also be remembered that a symbolical mode of expression is 
the indispensable vehicle of all teaching of an initiatic character; 
but, without even considering the profane world and its evident 
and in a sense natural lack of comprehension, it is enough to glance 
at the vestiges of initiation that still persist in the West in order to 
see what some people, for lack of intellectual qualification’, make of 
the symbols proffered for their meditation. One may be quite sure 
that these people, with whatever titles they may be endowed and 
whatever initiatic degrees they may have received ‘virtually’, will 
never get so far as to penetrate to the real meaning of the smallest 
fragment of the mysterious geometry of ‘the Great Architects of the 
Orient and of the Occident’. 

As the West has just been alluded to, one further remark is called 
for: however far afield the state of mind that has been specifically 
designated as ‘modern’ may have spread, especially in recent years, 
and however strong may be the hold it has taken and that it exer- 
cises ever more completely— at least externally — over the whole 
world, this state of mind remains nevertheless purely Western in 
origin: in the West it had its birth, and the West was for a long time 
its exclusive domain; in the East its influence will never be anything 
but a Westernization. However far that influence may extend in the 
course of events still to be unfolded, its extension can never be held T 
to contradict what has been said about the difference between the 
spirit of the East and that of the West, and this difference is none 
other than that between the traditional spirit and the modern spirit; 
for it is all too clear that to the extent that a man ‘Westernizes’ him- 
self, whatever may be his race or country, to that extent he ceases to 
be an Easterner spiritually and intellectually, that is to say from the 
one point of view that really holds any interest. This is not a simple 
question of geography, unless that word be understood in a sense 
other than its modern one, for there is also a symbolical geography; 
indeed, in this connection, there is a very significant correspon- 
dence between the domination of the West and the end of a cycle, 
for the West is the place where the sun sets, that is to say where it 


arrives at the end of its daily journey, and where, according to Chi- 
nese symbolism, ‘the ripe fruit falls to the foot of the tree’. As to the 
means whereby the West has come to establish that domination, of 
which the ‘modernization of a more or less considerable number of 
Easterners is only the latest and most vexing consequence, it has 
been made sufficiently clear in the author’s other works that these 
means are based on material strength alone, which amounts to say- 
ing that Western domination is itself no more than an expression of 
the ‘reign of quantity’. 

Thus, from whatever side one looks at things, one is always 
brought back to the same considerations and constantly sees them 
verified in all possible applications. There ought not to be anything 
surprising in this, for truth is necessarily coherent; but that cer- 
tainly does not mean that truth is ‘systematic’, as profane philoso- 
phers and scholars all too readily imagine, confined as they are 
within narrowly limited conceptions to which alone the word ‘sys- 
tems’ can properly be applied, and which merely reflect the insuffi- 
ciency of individual minds left to their own devices; this is so even 
when the minds in question belong to those conventionally called 
‘men of genius’, for all the most vaunted speculations of such peo- 
ple are certainly not equal in value to a knowledge of the smallest 
traditional truth. Enough has been said on that subject in another 
place, for it has previously been found necessary to denounce the 
errors of ‘individualism’, for that again is one of the characteristics 
of the modern spirit; here it may be added that the false unity of the 
individual, conceived as constituting in himself a complete whole, 
corresponds in the human order to the false unity of the so-called 
‘atom’ in the cosmic order: both the one and the other are merely 
elements that are regarded as ‘simple’ from a purely quantitative 
point of view, and as such are supposed to be capable of a sort of 
indefinite repetition, which is strictly speaking an impossibility 
since it is essentially incompatible with the very nature of things; in 
fact, this indefinite repetition is nothing but the pure multiplicity 
toward which the present world is straining with all its might, with- 
out however being able ever to lose itself entirely therein, because 
pure multiplicity is situated beneath the level of manifested exist- 
ence, and represents the extreme opposite of principial unity. The 


descending cyclic movement must therefore be considered as taking 
place between these two poles, starting from unity, or rather from 
the point closest to unity in the domain of manifestation, relatively 
to the state of existence envisaged, and gradually tending toward 
multiplicity, that is to say toward multiplicity considered analyti- 
cally and without reference to any principle, for it goes without 
saying that in the principial order all multiplicity is synthetically 
comprehended in unity itself. It might appear that there is, in a 
sense, multiplicity at the two extreme points, in the same way as 
there is correlatively, as has just been pointed out, unity on the one 
side and ‘units’ on the other; but the notion of inverse analogy 
applies strictly here too, so that while the principial multiplicity is 
contained in metaphysical unity, arithmetical or quantitative ‘units’ 
are on the other hand contained in the other and inferior multiplic- 
ity. Incidentally, does not the mere possibility of speaking of ‘units’ 
in the plural show clearly enough how far removed the thing so 
spoken of is from true unity? The multiplicity of the lower order is 
by definition purely quantitative, it could be said to be quantity 
itself, deprived of all quality; on the other hand the multiplicity of 
the higher order, or that which can be called so analogically, is really 
a qualitative multiplicity, that is to say the integrality of the qualities 
or attributes that constitute the essence of beings and of things. So it 
can be said that the descent referred to tends away from pure quality 
toward pure quantity, both the one and the other being limits situ- 
ated outside manifestation, the one above it and the other beneath. 
In relation to the special conditions of our world or of our state of 
existence, these limits are an expression of the two universal princi- 
ples that have elsewhere been referred to as ‘essence’ and ‘substance’, 
and they are the two poles between which all manifestation is pro- 
duced. This is a point that must be explained more fully before 
going any further, for it provides an indispensable key to the better 
understanding of the considerations to be developed later in this 



Quality and quantity are fairly generally regarded as comple- 
mentary terms, although the profound reason for their comple- 
mentarism is often far from being understood, this reason lying in 
the ‘polar’ correspondence referred to toward the end of the intro- 
duction to this book. This, the first of all cosmic dualities, is a start- 
ing-point, for it is situated at the very principle of existence or of 
universal manifestation, and without it no manifestation would be 
possible in any mode whatsoever: it is the duality of Purusha and 
Prakriti according to the Hindu doctrine, or to use another termi- 
nology, that of ‘essence’ and ‘substance’. Its two terms must be 
envisaged as universal principles, and as being the two poles of all 
manifestation; but, at another level, or rather at a number of differ- 
ent levels (for there are many levels, corresponding to the more or 
less particularized domains that can be envisaged in the interior of 
universal manifestation), these two terms can also be used analogi- 
cally and in a relative sense to designate that which corresponds to 
the two principles, or most directly represents them with reference 
to a particular more or less limited mode of manifestation. Thus it 
is that essence and substance can be spoken of in relation either to a 
world, that is to say to a state of existence determined by certain 
special conditions, or in relation to a being considered as a separate 
entity, or even to each of the states of that being, that is to say, to its 
manifestation in each of the degrees of existence; in this last case, 
there is naturally a correspondence between what essence and sub- 
stance represent in the microcosm and what they represent, consid- 
ered from a macrocosmic point of view, in the world in which the 


manifestation of the being is situated; in other words, they are then 
only particularizations of the relative principles that are the deter- 
minations of universal essence and substance in relation to the con- 
ditions of the world in question. 

Understood in this relative sense, and especially with reference to 
particular beings, essence and substance are in effect the same as the 
‘form’ and ‘matter’ of the scholastic philosophers; but it is better to 
avoid the use of these latter terms because, doubtless owing to an 
imperfection of the Latin language in this connection, they only 
convey rather inaccurately the ideas they ought to express , 1 and also 
because they have lately become even more equivocal by reason of 
the quite different meaning commonly assigned to them in current 
speech. However that may be, to say that every manifested being is a 
composite of ‘form’ and ‘matter’ amounts to saying that its existence 
necessarily proceeds simultaneously from both essence and sub- 
stance, and consequently that there is in each being something cor- 
responding both to the one and to the other of these two principles, 
in such a way that the being is as it were a resultant of their union, or 
to speak more exactly, a resultant of the action exercised by the 
active principle, Essence, on the passive principle, Substance; and if 
consideration is confined to the special case of individual beings, the 
‘form’ and the ‘matter’ that constitute those beings are respectively 
identical with what the Hindu tradition designates as nama and 
rupa. While on the subject of concordances between different termi- 
nologies, thus perhaps incidentally enabling some people to trans- 
late the explanations given into a language to which they are more 
accustomed, it may be added that the Aristotelian designations ‘act’ 
and ‘potency’ also correspond to essence and substance. Aristotle’s 
terms are susceptible of a more extended application than are the 
terms ‘form’ and ‘matter’, but to say that there is in every being 
a mixture of act and potency comes back to the same thing in the 
end, for act is that in him by which he participates in essence, and 
potency is that in him by which he participates in substance; pure 

1. These words translate in a rather unsatisfactory way the Greek terms eifxx; 
and uXr| employed in the same sense by Aristotle. These terms will be referred to 
again later. 


act and pure potency could not exist anywhere in manifestation, 
since they are true equivalents of universal essence and substance. 

Provided that this is clearly understood, it is possible to speak of 
the Essence and of the Substance of our world, that is, of the world 
that is the domain of the individual human being, and it can be said 
that in conformity with the particular conditions that define this 
world as such, these two principles appear in it under the aspects of 
quality and of quantity respectively. This may appear evident at first 
sight so far as quality is concerned, since essence is the principial 
synthesis of all the attributes that belong to a being and make that 
being what it is, and since attributes and qualities are really synony- 
mous: and it may be observed that quality, considered as the con- 
tent of Essence, if such an expression be allowable, is not exclusively 
confined to our world, but is susceptible of a transposition that uni- 
versalizes its significance. There is nothing remarkable in this, since 
Essence represents the superior principle; but in any such universal- 
ization quality ceases to be the correlative of quantity, for quantity, 
unlike quality, is strictly linked up with the special conditions of our 
world; furthermore, from a theological point of view, is not quality 
in some way brought into relation with God himself when his 
attributes are spoken of, whereas it would be manifestly inconceiv- 
able to pretend to assign to him any sort of corresponding quantita- 
tive determination . 2 To this the objection might perhaps be raised 
that Aristotle ranks quality as well as quantity among his ‘catego- 
ries’, which are only special modes of the being and not coextensive r- 
with it; he does so however without effecting the transposition pre- 
viously mentioned, indeed he has no need to effect it, for the enu- 
meration of his ‘categories’ relates only to our world and to its 
conditions, in such a way that quality cannot be and is not really 
meant to be understood otherwise than in a sense that is more 
immediate for us in our state as individuals, the sense in which, as 
explained earlier, it appears as a correlative of quantity. 

It is of interest to note on the other hand that the ‘form’ of the 
scholastics is what Aristotle calls ei&x;, and that this latter word is 

2. It is possible to speak of Brahma saguna or ‘qualified’, but there can be no 
possible question of Brahma ‘quantified’. 


also used to mean ‘species’, which is properly speaking a nature or 
an essence common to an indefinite multitude of individuals. 
Specific nature is of a purely qualitative order, for it is truly ‘innu- 
merable’ in the strict sense of the word, that is to say it is indepen- 
dent of quantity, being indivisible and entire in every individual 
belonging to the species, so that it is quite unaffected by the number 
of those individuals, ‘plus’ or ‘minus’ not being applicable to it. 
Moreover, ei8oq is etymologically the ‘idea’, not only in the modern 
psychological sense, but also in an ontological sense nearer than is 
ordinarily supposed to the sense in which Plato uses it, for whatever 
may be the real differences in this connection between the concep- 
tions of Plato and of Aristotle, as so often happens they have been 
greatly exaggerated by disciples and commentators. The Platonic 
ideas are also essences; Plato gives expression chiefly to the tran- 
scendent aspect and Aristotle to the immanent aspect, but this does 
not imply incompatibility; independently of any conclusions to 
which the ‘systematic’ spirit may lead, it is only a matter of a differ- 
ence of level; in any case, they are always considering ‘archetypes’ or 
the essential principles of things, such principles representing what 
may be called the qualitative side of manifestation. Furthermore, 
the Platonic ideas, under another name and by direct filiation, are 
the same thing as the Pythagorean numbers; and this shows clearly 
that although the Pythagorean numbers are, as already indicated, 
called numbers analogically, they are in no way numbers in the 
ordinary quantitative sense of the word; they are on the contrary 
purely qualitative, corresponding inversely on the side of essence to 
what the quantitative numbers are on the side of substance. 3 

On the other hand, when Saint Thomas Aquinas says that 
numerus stat ex parte materiae he is speaking of quantitative num- 
ber, thereby affirming decisively that quantity has an immediate 
connection with the substantial side of manifestation. The word 

3. It may be observed that the name of a being, insofar as it is an expression of 
its essence, is properly speaking a number understood in this qualitative sense; and 
this establishes a close link between the -conception of the Pythagorean numbers — 
and consequently that of the Platonic ideas — and the use of the Sanskrit word 
nama to denote the essential side of a being. 


‘substantial’ is used here because materia in the scholastic sense is 
not by any means the same as ‘matter’ as understood by modern 
physicists, but is properly ‘substance’, whether that word be taken in 
its relative meaning, as when it is put into correlation with forma 
and referred to particular beings, or whether it be taken, when 
materia prima is in question, as the passive principle of universal 
manifestation, that is, as pure potentiality, and so as the equivalent 
of Prakriti in the Hindu doctrine. However, as soon as ‘matter’ is in 
question, in whatever sense the word be taken, everything becomes 
particularly obscure and confused, and doubtless not without rea- 
son ; 4 and therefore, while it has been possible to give an adequate 
account of the relation of quality to essence without developing a 
long argument, it will be necessary to go more deeply into the rela- 
tion between quantity and substance in order to present a clear pic- 
ture of the various aspects assumed by the Western conception of 
‘matter’ even before the advent of the modern deviation in which 
this word was destined to play so great a part: and it is all the more 
necessary to do so because this question is in a sense at the very root 
of the principal subject of this study. 

4. It must be pointed out, in connection with essence and substance, that the 
scholastics often translate as substantia the Greek word ouoia, which on the con- 
trary means properly and literally ‘essence’, and this contributes not a little to the 
growth of linguistic confusion; hence such expressions as ‘substantial form’ for 
instance, this expression being very ill adapted to convey the idea of that which 
really constitutes the essential side of a being and not its substantial side. 





The scholastics gave the name materia y generally speaking, to 
what Aristotle had called uXti; but this materia , as has already been 
said, must in no way be identified with the ‘matter’ of the moderns, 
for the idea of ‘matter’, complex and even in some ways contradic- 
tory as it is, seems to have been as strange to the ancient Westerners 
as it still is to Easterners. Even admitting that materia can become 
‘matter’ in certain special cases, or rather to be more accurate, that 
the more recent conception can be made to fit into the earlier one, 
materia nevertheless includes many other things at the same time, 
and it is these other things that must be carefully distinguished 
from ‘matter’; but for the purpose of naming them as a group by 
some comprehensive term like uXt| or materia , we have no better 
word at our disposal in Western languages than the word ‘sub- 
stance’ In any case, vh\, as a universal principle, is pure potency in 
which nothing is distinguished or ‘actualized’, and it constitutes the 
passive ‘support’ of all manifestation; it is therefore, taken in this 
sense, precisely Prakriti or universal substance, and everything that 
has been said elsewhere about Prakriti applies equally to u^r| thus 
understood . 1 Substance, understood in a relative sense as being that 

1. The primary meaning of the word uA.r| is related to the vegetative principle; 
here there is an allusion to the ‘root’ (in Sanskrit miila , a term applied to Prakriti ) 
which is the starting-point of manifestation; in this can be seen some connection 


which represents analogically the substantial principle and plays its 
part in relation to a more or less narrowly restricted order of exist- 
ence, furnishes the term uAx| with a secondary meaning, particu- 
larly when this term is correlated with ei8o<; to designate the two 
sides, essential and substantial, of particular existences. 

The scholastics, following Aristotle, distinguish these two mean- 
ings by speaking of materia prima and materia secunda, so that it 
can be said that their materia prima is universal substance and their 
materia secunda is substance in the relative sense; but, since terms 
become susceptible of multiple applications at different levels as 
soon as the relative is considered, what is materia at a certain level 
can become forma at another, and inversely, according to the more 
or less particularized hierarchy of the degrees of manifested exist- 
ence under consideration. In no case is a materia secunda pure 
potency, although it may constitute the potential side of a world or 
of a being; universal substance alone is pure potency, and it is situ- 
ated not only beneath our world ( substantia, from sub stare y is liter- 
ally ‘that which stands beneath’, a meaning also attached to the ideas 
of ‘support’ and ‘substratum’), but also beneath the whole of all the 
worlds and all the states comprised in universal manifestation. In 
addition, for the very reason that it is potentiality, absolutely ‘undis- 
tinguished’ and undifferentiated universal substance is the only 
principle that can properly be said to be ‘unintelligible’, not merely 
because we are not capable of knowing it, but because there is actu- 
ally nothing in it to be known; as for relative substances, insofaras 
they participate in the potentiality of universal substance, so far do 
they also participate in its ‘unintelligibility’. Therefore the explana- 
tion of things must not be sought on the substantial side, but on the 
contrary it must be sought on the essential side; translated into 
terms of spatial symbolism, this is equivalent to saying that every 
explanation must proceed from above downward and not from 
below upward; and this observation has a special relevance at this 

which does in fact plunge its roots into that which constitutes the obscure support 
of our world, substance indeed being in a way the tenebrous pole of existence, as 
will appear more clearly later on. 


point, for it immediately gives the reason why modern science actu- 
ally lacks all explanatory value. 

Before going further it should be noted here that the physicists’ 
‘matter’ can in no case be anything but a materia secunda, since the 
physicists regard it as being endowed with properties, on the nature 
of which they are incidentally not entirely in agreement, so that 
their ‘matter’ is not potentiality and ‘indistinction’ and nothing else 
besides; moreover, as the physicists’ conceptions relate to the sensi- 
ble world and do not go beyond it, they would not know what to do 
with the conception of a materia prima. Nonetheless, by a curious 
confusion, they talk all the time of ‘inert matter’, without noticing 
that if it were really inert it would have no properties and would not 
be manifested in any way, so that it could have no part in what their 
senses can perceive; nevertheless they persist in pronouncing every- 
thing that comes within range of their senses to be ‘matter’, whereas 
inertia can actually only be attributed correctly to materia prima , 
because it alone is synonymous with passivity or pure potentiality. 
To speak of the ‘properties of matter’ while asserting at the same 
time that ‘matter is inert’ is an insoluble contradiction; and, by a 
strange irony, modern ‘scientism’, which claims to eliminate all 
‘mystery’, nonetheless appeals in its vain attempts at explanation 
only to the very thing that is most ‘mysterious’ in the popular sense 
of the word, that is to say most obscure and least intelligible! 

The question now arises, after setting aside the supposed ‘inertia 
of matter’ as being really no more than an absurdity, whether ‘mat- 
ter’, endowed as it is with the more or less defined qualities that 
enable it to be manifested to our senses, is the same thing as the 
materia secunda of our world as understood by the scholastics. 
Doubt will at once arise as to the validity of any such assimilation, if 
it be noted that the materia secunda in question, if it is to play a part 
in relation to our world analogous to that played by materia prima 
or universal substance in relation to all manifestation, must in no 
way be manifested in this world itself, but can only serve as ‘support’ 
or ‘root’ to whatever is manifested therein, and that in consequence, 
sensible qualities cannot be inherent in it, but on the contrary must 
proceed from ‘forms’ implanted in it; and this again amounts to 
saying that anything that is quality must necessarily be referred to 


essence. Here a new confusion makes its appearance: modern physi- 
cists, in their efforts to reduce quality to quantity, have arrived by a 
sort of ‘logic of error’ to the point of confusing the two, and thence 
to the attribution of quality itself to their ‘matter’ as such; and they 
end by assigning all reality to ‘matter’, or at least all that they are 
capable of recognizing as reality: and it is this that constitutes ‘mate- 
rialism’ properly so called. 

Nevertheless, the materia secunda of our world cannot be devoid 
of all determination, for if it were so it would be inseparable from 
the materia pritna itself in its complete ‘indistinction’; neither can it 
be a sort of generalized materia secunda , for it must be determined 
in accordance with the special conditions of this world, in such a 
way that it can effectively play the part of substance in relation to 
this world in particular, and not in relation to anything else. The 
nature of this determination must then be specified, and this is what 
Saint Thomas Aquinas does when he defines this particular materia 
secunda as materia signata quantitate ; quality is therefore not inher- 
ent in it and is not that which makes it what it is, even if quality is 
considered only in relation to the sensible order; its place is taken 
by quantity, which thus really is ex parte materice. Quantity is one 
of the very conditions of existence in the sensible or corporeal 
world; it is the condition that belongs most exclusively of all to that 
world; therefore, as might have been expected, the definition of the 
materia secunda in question cannot concern anything other than 
this world, but it must concern this world as a whole, for everything 
that exists in this world is necessarily subject to quantity. The defi- 
nition given is therefore fully sufficient, and there is no need to 
attribute to materia secunda, as has been done to modern ‘matter’, 
properties that can in no way really belong to it. It can be said that 
quantity, regarded as constituting the substantial side of our world, 
is as it were its ‘basic’ or fundamental condition: but care must be 
taken not to go too far and attribute to it an importance of a higher 
order than is justifiable, and more particularly not to try to extract 
from it the explanation of this world. The foundation of a building 
must not be confused with its superstructure: while there is only a 
foundation there is still no building, although the foundation is 
indispensable to the building; in the same way, while there is only 


quantity there is still no sensible manifestation, although sensible 
manifestation has its very root in quantity. Quantity, considered by 
itself, is only a necessary ‘presupposition’, but it explains nothing; it 
is indeed a base, but nothing else, and it must not be forgotten that 
the base is by definition that which is situated at the lowest level, so 
that the reduction of quality to quantity is intrinsically nothing but 
a ‘reduction of the higher to the lower’, and some have very rightly 
attributed this very character to materialism: to claim to derive the 
‘greater’ from the ‘lesser’ is indeed one of the most typical of mod- 
ern aberrations. 

One further question presents itself: we meet with quantity under 
diverse modes, and in particular as discontinuous quantity, which is 
nothing but number , 2 and as continuous quantity, which is princi- 
pally represented by spatial and temporal magnitudes; among all 
these modes, which is the one that can most accurately be called 
pure quantity? This question has its importance, all the more so 
because Descartes, whose place is at the starting-point of many 
specifically modern philosophical and scientific conceptions, tried 
to define matter in terms of extension, and to make his definition 
the principle of a quantitative physics, which though not yet quite 
‘materialism’, was at least ‘mechanism’, and it might be tempting to 
draw the conclusion that extension, as being directly inherent in 
matter, represents the fundamental mode of quantity. On the other 
hand, Saint Thomas Aquinas, when he says that numcrus stat ex 
parte materiae , seems rather to suggest that number constitutes the 
substantial basis of this world, and therefore that it is number that 
must properly be looked on as pure quantity; and the attribution of 
a ‘basic’ character to number is in perfect agreement with the fact 
that in the Pythagorean doctrine number is taken, by inverse anal- 
ogy, as the symbol of the essential principles of things. It should be 

2. The pure idea of number is essentially that of whole number, and it is evident 
that the sequence of the whole numbers constitutes a discontinuous series; all the 
extensions that have been applied to this idea, and that have given rise to the 
notions of fractional numbers and incommensurable numbers, are real alterations, 
and only in fact represent the efforts tha^have been made to reduce as far as possi- 
ble the intervals in the numerical discontinuity, so as to lessen the imperfection 
inherent in the application of number to continuous magnitudes. 


noted too that the ‘matter’ of Descartes is no longer the materia 
secunda of the scholastics; it is on the other hand an example, per- 
haps the earliest in point of date, of the modern physicists’ ‘matter’, 
although Descartes’ notion did not then include all that his succes- 
sors were gradually to incorporate in it in order to arrive at the most 
recent theories of the ‘constitution of matter’. There is therefore rea- 
son to suspect that there may be some error or confusion in the 
Cartesian definition of matter, and that some element not of a 
purely quantitative order must have slipped into it at that stage, per- 
haps unsuspected by its originator: the nature of his error will be 
made clear in chapter 4, where we shall see that extension, although 
it is obviously quantitative in character, like everything else belong- 
ing to the sensible world, cannot be regarded as pure quantity. It 
may also be observed that the theories which go farthest in the 
direction of a reduction to the quantitative are generally ‘atomistic’ 
in one way or another, that is to say they introduce discontinuity 
into their notion of matter in such a way as to bring it into much 
closer relation to the nature of number than to that of extension; 
and the very fact that the material from which bodies are formed 
cannot in any case be conceived otherwise than as extended is never 
anything but a source of contradictions in all ‘atomism’. Another 
cause of confusion is the habit that has grown up of considering 
‘body’ and ‘matter’ as nearly synonymous; actually, bodies are in no 
sense materia secunda, which is not met with anywhere in the mani- 
fested existences of this world, bodies only proceeding from it as 
from their substantial principle. But number, like materia secunda, 
is never perceived directly and in a pure state in the corporeal world, 
and it is number that must without doubt be considered primarily 
as constituting the fundamental mode in the domain of quantity; 
the other modes of quantity are only derived from number, that is to 
say they are so to speak only quantity by virtue of their participa- 
tion in number: and this is implicitly recognized whenever it is 
maintained, as in fact it always is, that everything quantitative must 
be expressible in terms of number. In these other modes, even when 
quantity is the predominant element, it always appears as more or 
less mixed with quality; thus it is that the conceptions of space and 
of time, despite the efforts of modern mathematicians, can never be 


exclusively quantitative, unless indeed it be accepted that they must 
be reduced to entirely empty notions, without contact with any kind 
of reality; and is not the science of today in actual fact made up to a 
large extent of such empty notions, purely ‘conventional’ in 
character and without the least effective significance? This last ques- 
tion must be more fully dealt with, especially so far as it concerns the 
nature of space, for this aspect of the question is very closely 
connected with the principles of geometrical symbolism, while at 
the same time it provides an excellent example of the degeneration 
that traditional conceptions must undergo in order to become pro- 
fane conceptions; the procedure will be to examine first of all how 
the conception of ‘measure’, the very foundation of geometry, can be 
transposed, in a traditional sense, in such a way as to give it a 
significance quite other than that which modern scientists attach to 
it, for they only see in ‘measure’ a means for getting as near as they 
can to their topsy-turvy ‘ideal’, which seeks to bring about by 
degrees the reduction of all things to quantity. 




The use of the word ‘matter’, except where modern concep- 
tions are being specially examined, will henceforth be avoided for 
preference; and it must be understood that the reason for this lies in 
the confusions to which it inevitably gives rise, since it is impossible 
to use the word without at once evoking, even in those who are 
aware of the different meaning attached to the word by the scholas- 
tics, the idea of that which modern physicists call ‘matter’, for this 
last acceptation is the only one that holds good in current language. 
The idea in question, as we have seen, is not met with in any tradi- 
tional doctrine whether it be Eastern or Western; this indicates at 
least that, even to the extent that it might legitimately be admitted 
after clearing it of certain incongruous and even flatly contradictory 
elements, it contains nothing that is really essential and is related 
only to one highly particularized way of looking at things. At the T 
same time, since the idea is very recent, it cannot be implicit in the 
word itself, which is far older, so that the original meaning of the 
word must be quite independent of its modern meaning. It must 
however be admitted that the true etymological derivation of this 
word is very difficult to determine — as if a more or less impenetra- 
ble obscurity must inevitably envelop everything that has to do with 
‘matter’ — and it is scarcely possible in this connection to do more 
than distinguish certain conceptions associated with its root; this 
will be by no means without interest, although it is impossible to 
specify exactly which of the various conceptions is the closest to the 
primitive meaning of the word. 


The connection that seems to have been noticed most often is 
that which relates materia to mater , and this fits in well with the idea 
of substance as the passive principle and as symbolically feminine; it 
can be said that Prakriti plays the maternal’ part in relation to man- 
ifestation and Purusha the ‘paternal’; and the same is true at all the 
levels at which a correlation of essence and substance can be envis- 
aged analogically . 1 On the other hand, it is also possible to relate 
this same word materia to the Latin verb metiri ‘to measure’ (and it 
will appear later that there is in Sanskrit a form still closer to it): 
‘measure’ however implies determination, and determination can- 
not be applied to the absolute indetermination of universal sub- 
stance or the materia prima t but must rather be related to some 
other more restricted notion, a point we propose to now examine 
more closely. 

Ananda K. Coomaraswamy has said on this subject: 

For everything that can be conceived or perceived (in the mani- 
fested world) Sanskrit has only the expression nama-rupa> the 
two terms of which correspond to the ‘intelligible’ and the ‘sensi- 
ble’, considered as two complementary aspects referred respec- 
tively to the essence and to the substance of things . 2 It is true that 
the word matra y which literally means ‘measure’, is the etymolog- 
ical equivalent of materia ; but that which is thus ‘measured’ is not 
the physicists’ ‘matter’, it is the possibilities of manifestation 
inherent in the spirit (. Atma ). 3 

1. This also agrees well with the original meaning of the word uXri which was 
given above: the plant is so to speak the ‘mother’ of the fruit that comes forth from 
it and is nourished from its substance, but the fruit is only developed and ripened 
under the vivifying influence of the sun, the sun being thus in a sense its ‘father’; 
and as a result the fruit itself is symbolically assimilated to the sun by ‘co-essential - 
ity’, if it be permissible to use this expression, as may also be understood by refer- 
ence to explanations given elsewhere of the symbolism of the Adityas and other 
similar traditional notions. 

2. These two terms, ‘intelligible’ and ‘sensible’, used in this way as correlatives, 
properly belong to the language of Plato; it is well known that the ‘intelligible 
world’ is for Plato the domain of ‘ideas’ or of ‘archetypes’, which, as we have seen, 
are actually essences in the proper sense of the word; and, in relation to this intelli- 
gible world, the sensible world, which is the domain of corporeal elements and pro- 
ceeds from their combinations, is situated on the substantial side of manifestation. 

3. ‘Notes on the Kata Upanisad,’ New Indian Antiquary (Bombay) 470 (1938): pt.2. 


The idea of ‘measure’, brought in this way into direct relation with 
manifestation itself, is very important, and is moreover far from 
being peculiar to the Hindu tradition, which Coomaraswamy had 
particularly in view here. It can indeed truthfully be said that the 
idea is found in all the traditional doctrines in one form or another, 
and, while it is naturally impossible to attempt to enumerate all the 
relevant concordances that could be pointed out, enough can per- 
haps be said to justify this statement, and at the same time to clarify, 
as far as it is possible to do so, the symbolism of ‘measure’, which 
plays so important a part in certain initiatic forms. 

Measure, understood in the literal sense, is principally concerned 
with the domain of continuous quantity, that is to say, it is con- 
cerned most directly with things that have a spatial character (for 
time, though no less continuous than space, can only be measured 
indirectly, by as it were attaching it to space through movement as 
intermediary, thus establishing a relation between the two). This 
amounts to saying that measure is specifically concerned either 
with extension itself, or with what is conventionally called the ‘mat- 
ter of physics’, by reason of the character of extension that this last 
necessarily possesses: but this does not mean that the nature of 
matter can, as Descartes claimed, be reduced simply to extension 
and nothing more. In the first case, measure is correctly said to be 
‘geometrical’; in the second case, it would more usually be called 
‘physical’ in the ordinary sense of the word; but in reality the sec- 
ond case becomes merged in the first, for it is only by virtue of the 
fact that bodies are situated in extension and occupy a certain defi- 
ned part of it that they are directly measurable, whereas their other 
properties are not susceptible of measurement, except to the degree 
that they can in some way be related to extension. We are at this 
point, as was foreseen, a long way from the materia prima , which in 
its absolute indistinction, can neither be measured in any way nor 
be used as a measure of anything else; but it is necessary to enquire 
whether the notion of measure be not more or less closely linked 
with whatever it is that constitutes the materia secunda of our 
world, and it turns out that a linkage exists through the fact that the 
materia secunda is signata quantitate. Indeed, if measure directly 
concerns extension and what is contained therein, it is only by the 
quantitative aspect of this extension that measure is made possible; 


but continuous quantity as such is, as explained, only a derived 
mode of quantity, that is to say it is only quantity by virtue of its 
participation in pure quantity, which in its turn is inherent in the 
materia secunda of the corporeal world; and besides, just because 
continuity is not pure quantity, measure always carries a certain 
degree of imperfection in its numerical expression, as the disconti- 
nuity of number makes a fully adequate application of number to 
the determination of continuous magnitudes impossible. Number 
is indeed the basis of all measurement, but, so long as number is 
considered by itself there can be no question of measurement, for 
measurement is the application of number to something else. An 
application of this kind is always possible within certain limits, but 
only after taking into account the ‘inadequacy’ just referred to, and 
this applies to everything subject to the quantitative condition, in 
other words, to everything belonging to the domain of corporeal 
manifestation. Only — and here the idea expressed by Coomar- 
aswamy recurs — it must be most carefully noted that, despite cer- 
tain prevalent misuses of ordinary language, quantity is never really 
that which is measured, it is on the contrary that by which things 
are measured; and furthermore, it can be said that the relation of 
measure to number corresponds, in an inversely analogical sense, to 
the relation of manifestation to its essential principle. 

It is evident that in order to carry the idea of measure beyond the 
limits of the corporeal world, it must be analogically transposed. 
The manifestation of the possibilities of the corporeal order takes 
place in space, so that space may be made use of to represent the 
whole domain of universal manifestation, which otherwise would 
not be ‘representable’; thus the idea of measure, when it is applied 
to this comprehensive domain, is an essential part of the spatial 
symbolism that is so frequently employed. Fundamentally then, 
measure is an ‘assignation’ or a ‘determination’ necessarily implied 
in all manifestation, in every order and under every mode; as a 
determination, it naturally conforms to the conditions of each state 
of existence, and it is even in a certain sense identified with those 
conditions themselves, it being truly quantitative only in our world 
since quantity, like space and time, is no more than one of the spe- 
cial conditions of corporeal existence. But there is in every world a 


determination that can be symbolized for us by the quantitative 
determination we know as measure, because it is the determination 
corresponding in other worlds to measure in our own, in accor- 
dance with the difference of conditions in each; and it can be said 
that through this determination these other worlds, together with 
all that they contain, are realized or ‘actualized’ as such, since it is 
inherent in the very process of manifestation. Coomaraswamy 
remarks that ‘the Platonic and Neoplatonic concept of “measure” 
(petpov) agrees with the Indian concept: the “non-measured” is that 
which has not yet been defined; the “measured” is the defined or 
finite content of the universe, that is, of the “ordered” universe; the 
“non-measurable” is the Infinite, which is the source both of the 
indefinite and of the finite, and remains unaffected by the definition 
of whatever is definable,’ that is to say by the realization of the pos- 
sibilities of manifestation which it carries in itself. 

It is clear from this that the idea of measure is intimately con- 
nected with that of ‘order’ (in Sanskrit rita) y and ‘order’ is in turn 
related to the production of the manifested universe, the universe 
being, according to the etymological meaning of the Greek word 
koct|io^, a production of ‘order’ out of ‘chaos’, the latter being the 
indefinite in the Platonic sense, and the ‘cosmos’ the definite . 4 The 
production of ‘order’ is also assimilated in all traditions to an ‘illu- 
mination’ (the Fiat Lux of Genesis), the ‘chaos’ being symbolically 
identified with darkness: ‘chaos’ is the potentiality from which as 
starting-point manifestation will be ‘actualized’, that is to say, it is in 
effect the substantial side of the world, which is therefore described 
as the tenebrous pole of existence, whereas essence is the luminous 
pole since it is the influence of essence that illuminates the ‘chaos’ in 
order to extract from it the ‘cosmos’; all this is in agreement with the 
inter-relation of the different meanings implicit in the Sanskrit 
word srishti, which designates the production of manifestation, and 

4. The Sanskrit word rita is related by its root to the Latin ordo, and it is scarcely 
necessary to point out that it is related even more closely to the word ‘rite’: a rite is, 
etymologically, that which is accomplished in conformity with ‘order’, and which 
consequently imitates or reproduces at its own level the very process of manifesta- 
tion; and that is why, in a strictly traditional civilization, every act of whatever kind 
takes on an essentially ritual character. 


contains simultaneously the ideas ‘expression’, ‘conception’, and 
‘luminous radiation ’. 5 The solar rays make apparent the things they 
illumine so that they become visible, the rays thus being said sym- 
bolically to ‘manifest’ them; and if a central point in space is consid- 
ered, together with the radii emanating from it, it can also be said 
that these radii ‘realize’ space by causing it to pass from virtuality to 
actuality, and that their effective extension is at any instant the mea- 
sure of the space realized. These radii correspond to the directions 
of space properly so called (these directions being often represented 
by the symbolism of ‘hair’, a similar symbolism being used in con- 
nection with the solar rays); space is defined and measured by the 
three-dimensional cross, and in the traditional symbolism of the 
‘seven solar rays’, six of those rays arranged in two opposite pairs 
form the cross, while the ‘seventh ray’, the ray that passes through 
the ‘solar gate’, can only be represented graphically by the center 
itself. All this is perfectly coherent, and is linked together as rigor- 
ously as could be; and it may be added that, in the Hindu tradition, 
the ‘three steps’ of Vishnu, whose ‘solar’ character is well-known, 
measure the ‘three worlds’, which amounts to saying that they ‘effec- 
tuate’ the totality of universal manifestation. We know too that the 
three elements that constitute the sacred monosyllable Ora are des- 
ignated by the term matra, showing that they also respectively rep- 
resent the measure of the three worlds; and by the mediation of 
these matras, the being realizes in itself the corresponding states or 
degrees of universal existence and so becomes itself the ‘measure of 
all things ’. 6 

The Sanskrit word matra has as its exact equivalent in Hebrew 
the word middah, and the middoth are assimilated in the Kabbalah 
to the divine attributes, by which God is said to have created the 
worlds, and this conception is also brought directly into relation 
with the symbolism of the central point and the directions of 
space . 7 In this connection the Biblical statement may be recalled, 
according to which God has ‘arranged all things by measure and 

5. Cf. A. K. Coomaraswamy, ibid. 

6. Cf. Man and His Becoming according to the Vedanta, chap. 17. 

7. Cf. The Symbolism of the Cross, chap. 4. 


number and weight’; 8 these three categories clearly represent 
diverse modes of quantity, but they are only literally applicable as 
such to the corporeal world and to nothing else, though by an 
appropriate transposition they may nevertheless also be taken as an 
expression of universal ‘order’. The same is also true of the 
Pythagorean numbers, but the mode of quantity that is primarily 
associated with measure, namely, extension, is the mode that is 
most often and most directly brought into relation with the process 
of manifestation itself, by virtue of a certain natural predominance 
of spatial symbolism in this connection, arising from the fact that 
space constitutes the ‘field’ (in the sense of the Sanskrit kshetra) 
within which corporeal manifestation is developed, corporeal man- 
ifestation being inevitably taken as the symbol of the whole of uni- 
versal manifestation. 

The idea of measure immediately evokes the idea of ‘geometry’, 
for not only is every measurement essentially ‘geometrical’ as we 
have already seen, but also geometry itself can be called the science 
of measurement; but it goes without saying that geometry under- 
stood primarily in a symbolic and initiatic sense is here in question, 
profane geometry being merely a degenerate vestige thereof, 
deprived of its original deep significance, which is entirely lost to 
modern mathematicians. Such is the essential foundation of all con- 
ceptions in which divine activity, conceived as producing and order- 
ing the worlds, is assimilated to ‘geometry’, and consequently also to 
architecture, for the two are inseparable; 9 and it is known that these 
conceptions have been preserved and transmitted in uninterrupted 
succession from Pythagorism (which was itself only an ‘adaptation’ 
and not really ‘original’) down to what still remains of the Western 
initiatic organizations, however unconscious these organizations 
may now be of the nature of the conception in question. Related to 
this very point is Plato’s statement that ‘God geometrizes always’ 
(ael 6 Geoq ye( 0 )i£xpei), recourse to the neologism ‘geometrizes’ being 

8. Omnia in mensura, nutnero et pondere disposuisti (Wisd. of Sol. 11:20). 

9. In Arabic, the word hindesah, of which the primary meaning is ‘measure’, 
serves to denote both geometry and architecture, the latter being really an applica- 
tion of the former. 


inevitable in order to translate this exactly, as there is no authentic 
word to describe the activity of the geometrician; and the corre- 
sponding inscription said to have been put on the door of his school 
is: ‘Let none but a geometrician enter here,’ implying that his teach- 
ing, at least on its esoteric side, could only be truly and effectively 
understood through an ‘imitation’ of the divine activity itself. A sort 
of last echo of this in modern philosophy (modern as to its date, but 
really in reaction against specifically modern ideas) is found in this 
statement of Leibnitz: ‘while God calculates and practices His cogi- 
tation [that is to say, sets out his plans] the world is made’ ( dum 
Deus calculat et cogitationem exercet, fit mundus), but, all these 
things had a far more precise significance for the men of old, for in 
the Greek tradition the ‘geometrician God’ was none other than the 
hyperborean Apollo, and thus we are brought back once more to the 
‘solar’ symbolism, and at the same time to a fairly direct derivation 
from the primordial tradition; but that is another question, which 
could not be developed here without getting entirely off the subject; 
all that can be done now is to give, as opportunity occurs, a few 
glimpses of the traditional knowledge that is so completely forgotten 
by our contemporaries . 10 

10. Coomaraswamy has called attention to a curious symbolical drawing by 
William Blake representing the ‘Ancient of Days’, appearing in the solar orb, whence 
he points toward the outside a compass held in his hand, all of which might illus- 
trate the following words from the Rg-Veda (vm. 25.18): ‘With his ray he hath mea- 
sured [or determined] the bounds of Heaven and of Earth’ (and among the 
symbols of certain Masonic grades is found a compass, the head of which is formed 
of a sun with rays). Here it is a case of the figuration of that aspect of the Principle 
that Western initiations call the ‘Great Architect of the Universe’, who becomes too 
in certain cases the ‘Great Geometrician of the Universe’, and who is identical with 
Vishvakarma of the Hindu tradition, the ‘Spirit of Universal Construction’; his ter- 
restrial representatives, that is to say those who in some way ‘incarnate’ this Spirit 
in the case of each distinct traditional form, are what has earlier been called, for 
this very reason, the ‘Great Architects of the Orient and of the Occident’. 




purely and simply a mode of quantity; in other words, while it is 
undoubtedly legitimate to speak of quantity as extended or spatial, 
this does not necessarily imply that extension can be treated as 
quantity and nothing more. This must be insisted on again, because 
it is particularly important in that it reveals the insufficiency of Car- 
tesian ‘mechanism’ and of the other physical theories derived more 
or less directly from it in modern times. The first thing to be noticed 
in this connection is that if space were purely quantitative it would 
have to be entirely homogeneous, and its parts would have to be 
indistinguishable one from another by any characteristic other than 
their respective sizes; this would amount to conceiving it as no 
more than a container without content, that is to say as something 
which cannot have an independent existence in manifestation, for 
the relation of container to content necessarily presupposes, by its 
very nature as a correlation, the simultaneous presence of both of 
its terms. The question may be put, at least with some appearance 
of reason, as to whether geometrical space can be conceived as 
endowed with some such homogeneity, but whatever may be the 
answer to that question no such conception of homogeneity is com- 
patible with physical space, with the space that contains bodies, for 
the presence of those bodies suffices to determine qualitative differ- 
ences between the parts of space they occupy— and Descartes was 
undoubtedly thinking of physical space, for otherwise his theory 
would not mean anything, since it would then not be applicable in 


any real sense to the world of which it claims to provide the expla- 
nation . 1 It would be useless to object that ‘empty space’ is only the 
starting-point of his theory because, in the first place, this would 
lead back to the conception of a container without content, imply- 
ing an emptiness that can have no place in the manifested world, 
emptiness as such not being a possibility of manifestation ; 2 and, in 
the second place, since Descartes reduces the whole nature of bodies 
to extension, he is compelled thenceforth to suppose that their pres- 
ence adds nothing to what space itself already is. Indeed the diverse 
properties of bodies are no more in his eyes than mere modifica- 
tions of extension; but if that be so, whence can these properties 
come, unless they are in some way inherent in extension itself, and 
how can they be so inherent if the nature of extension is lacking in 
any qualitative elements? Here there is something very like contra- 
diction; indeed it would be difficult to maintain that this contradic- 
tion, and a good many others like it, is not implicit in the work of 
Descartes; for he, like the more recent materialists who surely have 
ample reason to proclaim themselves his followers, seem really to be 
trying to extract the ‘greater’ from the ‘lesser’. To say that a body is 
nothing but extension in a purely quantitative sense, is really the 
same as to say that its surface and its volume, which measure the 
portion of extension actually occupied by it, are the body itself with 
all its properties, which is manifestly absurd; therefore some other 
interpretation must be sought, and it becomes impossible to avoid 
the admission that extension itself is in some way qualitative, but if 
it is so, it cannot serve as the basis of an exclusively ‘mechanistic’ 

1. It is true that Descartes, at the beginning of his physics, only claims to con- 
struct a hypothetical world on the basis of certain assumptions, which can be 
reduced to extension and movement; but, since he is at pains to demonstrate later 
that the phenomena that would be produced in such a world are precisely those of 
which we are aware in our own, it is clear that, in spite of his purely verbal precau- 
tion, he intends to conclude that our world is in fact constituted like the world he 
began by imagining. 

2. This argument is equally applicable against atomism, which by definition 
admits no positive existence other than that of atoms and their combinations, and 
is thus necessarily led to posit a void between the atoms for them to move about in. 


Now although these considerations show that Cartesian physics 
cannot be valid, they are still not sufficient to establish firmly the 
qualitative character of extension; indeed it might well be argued 
that, although it is true that the nature of bodies cannot be reduced 
to extension alone, yet this is just because they derive nothing from 
extension other than their quantitative elements. But at this point 
the following observation becomes pertinent: among the corporeal 
determinations which are undeniably of a purely spatial order, and 
which can therefore rightly be regarded as modifications of exten- 
sion, there is not only the size of bodies, but also their situation; is 
situation itself therefore also purely quantitative? The partisans of a 
reduction to quantity will doubtless reply that the situation of a plu- 
rality of bodies is defined by their distances, and that distance is cer- 
tainly a quantity— the quantity of extension that lies between them, 
just as their size is the quantity of extension that they occupy; but is 
distance sufficient by itself to define the situation of bodies in space? 
There is something else that cannot possibly be left out of account, 
and that is the direction along which distance must be measured; 
but, from a quantitative point of view, direction cannot but be a 
matter of indifference, because space cannot be considered as other 
than homogeneous in this respect, and this implies that particular 
directions in space are in no way distinguished one from another; so 
if direction is an effective element in situation, and if it is a purely 
spatial element, as it evidently is, and no less so than distance, then 
there must be something qualitative in the very nature of space. 

In order to leave no room for doubt, physical space and bodies 
can be left out of the picture, nothing then remaining to be consid- 
ered but a space that is in the strict sense purely geometrical, and 
this surely does represent what may be called space reduced to it- 
self alone; in studying such a space, does geometry really take noth- 
ing into account but strictly quantitative conceptions? Let it be 
clearly understood that only the profane geometry of the moderns 
is now under consideration; and the question may at once be asked 
whether, if there proves to be anything in profane geometry that 
cannot be reduced to quantity, does it not immediately follow that 
it is even less possible and less legitimate to claim to reduce every- 
thing in the domain of the physical sciences to quantity? Even the 

34 the reign of quantity 

question of situation can be left out here, because it only plays a 
really conspicuous part in certain special branches of geometry, 
which might perhaps be regarded as not constituting a strictly inte- 
gral part of pure geometry : 3 but in the most elementary geometry, 
not only has the size of figures to be taken into account, but also 
their shape; and would any geometrician, however deeply imbued 
with modern conceptions, dare to maintain for example that a tri- 
angle and a square of equal area are one and the same thing? He 
would only say that they are ‘equivalent’, but he would clearly be 
leaving out as being understood the words ‘in respect of size’, and he 
would have to recognize that in another respect, namely that of 
shape, there is something that differentiates them; and the reason 
for which equivalence in size does not carry with it similitude of 
shape is that there is something in shape that precludes its being 
reduced to quantity. But this is not all: for there is a whole section of 
elementary geometry to which quantitative considerations are 
strange, namely the theory of similar figures; similarity is in fact 
defined exclusively by shape and is wholly independent of the size of 
figures, and this amounts to saying that it is of a purely qualitative 
order . 4 If we now care to enquire into the essential nature of spatial 
shape, it will be found to be definable as an assemblage of direc- 
tional tendencies: at every point in a line its directional tendency is 
specified by a tangent, and the assemblage of all the tangents defines 
the shape of the line. In three-dimensional geometry the same is 
true of surfaces, straight line tangents being replaced by plane tan- 
gents; it is moreover evident that the shape of all bodies, as well as 
that of simple geometrical figures, can be similarly defined, for the 
shape of a body is the shape of the surface by which its volume is 
delimited. The conclusion toward which all this leads could be fore- 
seen when the situation of bodies was being discussed, namely, that 
it is the notion of direction that without doubt represents the real 
qualitative element inherent in the very nature of space, just as the 

3. Such are, for instance, descriptive geometry, and the geometry to which cer- 
tain mathematicians have given the name of analysis situs. 

4. This is just what Leibnitz expressed by the formula: Aequalia sunt ejusdem 
quantitatis; similia sunt ejusdem qualitatis. 


notion of size represents its quantitative element; and so space that 
is not homogeneous, but is determined and differentiated by its 
directions, may be called ‘qualified’ space. 

Thus, not only from the physical point of view, but also even 
from the geometrical point of view, as has been shown, ‘qualified’ 
space is actually the real space; indeed homogeneous space has 
properly speaking no existence at all, being nothing more than a 
mere virtuality. In order that it may be measured — and this means, 
according to the explanations given, in order to be effectively 
realized — space must necessarily be related to an assemblage of 
defined directions. These directions moreover present themselves to 
us as radii emanating from a center, which thus becomes the center 
of a three-dimensional cross, and it is unnecessary again to call 
attention to the important part played by these radii in the symbol- 
ism of all traditional forms . 5 It may not perhaps be too much to 
suggest that if the study of the directions of space could be restored 
to its rightful position of importance, it might become possible to 
restore to geometry at least a considerable part of the profound 
meaning that it has lost; but it is of no use to pretend that the work 
involved might not have to be spread over a very wide field; this will 
be apparent to anyone who reflects on the extent of the real influ- 
ence exerted by such considerations on every aspect of the constitu- 
tion of traditional societies . 6 

Space, as well as time, is one of the conditions defining corporeal 
existence, but these conditions are not themselves ‘matter’, or rather, 

5. For a full treatment of this theme, reference may be made to the consider- 
ations set out, and fully developed, in The Symbolism of the Cross. 

6. Attention may be directed in particular to all questions of ritual related to 
‘orientation’; this cannot be dwelt on here, and it need only be mentioned that not 
only are the conditions for the construction of buildings traditionally determined 
in this way, whether they be temples or houses, but also those for the foundation of 
cities. The orientation of churches is the last vestige of this that has persisted in the 
West up to the beginning of modern times, the last vestige, at least, from an ‘exte- 
rior’ point of view, for within the symbolism of initiatic forms considerations of 
this order, though not generally understood today, have always kept their place, 
even when the present degenerate condition of affairs has led to a belief that the 
maintenance of the effective realization of the implied conditions can be dispensed 
with, and that a purely ‘speculative’ representation of them is enough. 


not themselves quantity, though they accommodate themselves nat- 
urally to quantity; they are less ‘substantial’ than it and so nearer to 
essence, which implies the existence in them of a qualitative aspect; 
we have seen that such is the case with space, and will shortly see that 
it is so with time as well. Before passing on to consider time, 
however, it may be pointed out that the inexistence of an ‘empty 
space’ is enough to expose the absurdity of one of Kant’s too famous 
cosmological antinomies: to ask ‘whether the world is infinite or 
whether it is limited within space’ is a question that has absolutely 
no meaning. Space cannot possibly extend beyond the world in 
order to contain it, because an empty space would then be in ques- 
tion, and emptiness cannot contain anything: on the contrary, it is 
space that is in the world, that is to say, in manifestation, and if con- 
sideration be confined to the domain of corporeal manifestation 
alone, it can be said that space is coextensive with this world, 
because it is one of its conditions; but this world is no more infinite 
than is space itself, for, like space, it does not contain every possibil- 
ity, but only represents a certain particular order of possibilities, 
and it is limited by the determinations that constitute its very 
nature. Similarly, in order to avoid having to return to the point, it is 
worth saying here that it is no less absurd to wonder ‘whether the 
world is eternal or whether it had a beginning in time’; for closely 
comparable reasons the truth is that time began in the world, when- 
ever universal manifestation is concerned, or with the world, when 
corporeal manifestation alone is concerned. But the world is not 
therefore eternal, for there are beginnings outside time; the world is 
not eternal because it is contingent, in other words, it has a begin- 
ning as well as an end because it is not itself its own principle, or 
because it does not contain its principle in itself, that principle 
being necessarily transcendent with respect to it. There is no diffi- 
culty whatever in all this, but it implies that a considerable part of 
the speculations of modern philosophers arises out of questions 
wrongly posed and therefore insoluble and liable to give rise to 
indefinite discussion; the questions themselves evaporate entirely 
the moment they are examined without prejudice, and so are 
reduced to what they really are— mere products of the confusion 
characteristic of the mentality of today. The strange part of it is that 


this very confusion seems to have its own ‘logic’, since for several 
centuries, during which it has assumed many different forms, it has 
always tended in the same direction; but this ‘logic’ really resides in a 
conformity with the development of the human cycle, itself in turn 
the result of current cosmic conditions. This leads directly to 
considerations connected with the nature of time, and with what 
may be called, in opposition to the purely quantitative conceptions 
of the ‘mechanists’, the qualitative determinations of time. 



If space is not pure quantity, time appears to be still less so: 
temporal magnitudes as well as spatial magnitudes can be spoken 
of, and in both cases continuous quantity is involved (for there is 
no occasion to pause to consider the strange conception of Des- 
cartes, according to which time is constituted of a series of discon- 
tinuous instants, so that it becomes necessary to assume a constant 
repetition of the act of ‘creation, the world otherwise always van- 
ishing away during the intervals of temporal discontinuity); never- 
theless, there is a big distinction to be made between the two cases, 
arising from a fact to which attention has already been called, 
namely that space can be measured directly, whereas time can only 
be measured by relating it back in some way to space. What is mea- 
sured is never really a duration, it is the space covered in a certain 
length of time in the course of a movement of which the law is 
known; and as any such law expresses a relation between time and 
space, it is possible, when the amount of the space covered is 
known, to deduce therefrom the amount of time occupied in cov- 
ering it; and whatever may be the artifices employed, there is actu- 
ally no other way than this whereby temporal magnitudes can be 

Another observation leading to the same conclusion is the fol- 
lowing: the only phenomena that are situated in space as well as in 
time are those that are properly called corporeal; phenomena 
belonging to the mental order, such as are studied by ‘psychology’ in 


the ordinary sense of the word, have no spatial character, though, 
like other phenomena, they are developed in time; and the mental, 
since it belongs to subtle manifestation, is, within the individual 
domain, necessarily nearer to essence than is the corporeal; the 
nature of time thus being such that it can reach into the subtle 
domain and therein condition mental manifestations, the conclu- 
sion must be that the nature of time is more qualitative than that of 
space. While on the subject of mental phenomena, it may be added 
that, once they are seen to be akin to that which represents essence 
in the individual, it is quite useless to look for quantitative elements 
in them, and it is still more useless to try to reduce them to quan- 
tity; the things which the ‘psycho-physiologists’ determine quanti- 
tatively are not really in themselves mental phenomena, as is 
imagined, but only some of their corporeal concomitants; in such 
investigations there is nothing that comes anywhere near to contact 
with the intrinsic nature of the mental, and so nothing that can 
explain it in the smallest degree; the absurd idea of a quantitative 
psychology surely represents the fullest development of the modern 
‘scientistic’ aberration. 

All this being so, if it is right to speak of ‘qualified’ space, it is all 
the more right to speak of ‘qualified’ time, which means that there 
must be fewer quantitative determinations and more qualitative 
determinations in time than in space. ‘Empty time’, moreover, has 
no more an effective existence than has ‘empty space’, and in this 
connection everything that has been said about space could be 
repeated about time: outside this world there is no time, just as 
there is no space, and inside it, realized time contains all events, just 
as realized space contains all bodies. In certain respects there is 
something like a symmetry between space and time, so that they can 
often be alluded to in terms that are more or less parallel; but this 
symmetry, which is not found with respect to the other conditions 
of corporeal existence, arises rather on the qualitative than on the 
quantitative side, as is indicated by the difference already pointed 
out between the determination of spatial magnitudes and temporal 
magnitudes, as well as by the absence, in the case of time, of a quan- 
titative science of an order comparable to that of the geometry of 
space. Moreover, on the qualitative side symmetry is conspicuously 


apparent in the correspondence existing between spatial symbolism 
and temporal symbolism, of which many examples have been given 
elsewhere; in fact it goes without saying that whenever symbolism is 
in question the essential part is played by considerations of quality 
and not of quantity. 

It is evident that periods of time are qualitatively differentiated by 
the events unfolded within them, just as the parts of space are differ- 
entiated by the bodies they contain; it is not therefore in any way 
justifiable to regard as being really equivalent durations of time that 
are quantitatively equal when they are filled by totally different 
sequences of events; it is indeed a matter of current observation that 
quantitative equality disappears completely from the mental appre- 
ciation of duration in the face of qualitative difference. Someone 
may perhaps argue that qualitative difference is not inherent in 
duration itself, but only in what happens within it; it therefore 
becomes necessary to enquire whether there be not something in 
the qualitative determination of events that originates from time 
itself; and it seems that such is recognized to be the case, at least 
implicitly, when, as constantly happens in ordinary speech, the par- 
ticular conditions of this or that period are referred to. This seems 
indeed to be even more obvious in the case of time than in that of 
space, although, as explained, qualitative elements are far from 
being negligible when the situation of bodies is in question; and it 
could even be said, in the final analysis, that a particular body can- 
not be situated indifferently in any place, any more than a particular 
event can happen indifferently at any time; but here the symmetry is 
not perfect, because the situation of a body in space can vary 
through the occurrence of movement, whereas that of an event in 
time is rigidly determined and strictly ‘unique’, so that the essential 
nature of events seems to be much more rigidly tied to time than 
that of bodies is to space; and this again confirms that time must 
have in itself the more markedly qualitative character. 

The truth is that time is not something that unrolls itself uni- 
formly, so that the practice of representing it geometrically by a 
straight line, usual among modern mathematicians, conveys an idea 
of time that is wholly falsified by over- simplification; we shall see 
later that a tendency toward a pernicious simplification is yet 


another characteristic of the modern spirit, and also that it inevita- 
bly accompanies a tendency to reduce everything to quantity. The 
correct representation of time is to be found in the traditional con- 
ception of cycles, and this conception obviously involves a ‘qualified’ 
time; besides, whenever the question of geometrical representation 
arises, whether in fact it be set out graphically or only expressed 
through the use of an appropriate terminology, it is clear that a 
spatial symbolism is being made use of; all this may suggest that an 
indication of some kind of correlation may well be discovered 
between the qualitative determinations of time and those of space. A 
correlation can in fact be found: in the case of space, these deter- 
minations consist essentially in the directions; and the cyclical figu- 
ration effectively establishes a correspondence between the phases of 
a temporal cycle and the directions of space. In order to satisfy one- 
self of this, it is enough to consider an example chosen from among 
those that are simplest and most immediately accessible, that of the 
annual cycle, which, as is well enough known, plays a very impor- 
tant part in traditional symbolism , 1 wherein the four seasons are 
made to correspond with the four cardinal points . 2 

A more or less complete exposition of the doctrine of cycles can- 
not be entered upon here, although that doctrine is naturally 
implicit in and fundamental to the whole of this study; if the limits 

1 . It will suffice at this point to call attention, on the one hand, to the extent of 
the use of the symbolism of the zodiac, especially from a strictly initiatic point of 
view, and on the other hand, to the direct applications in the field of ritual to which 
the unfolding of the annual cycle gives rise in most traditional forms. 

2 . While on the subject of the qualitative determinations of space and time and 
their correspondences, it would be a pity not to mention a testimony which is cer- 
tainly not suspect, as being that of an ‘official’ orientalist, Marcel Granet, who has 
devoted to such traditional notions a whole section of his book entitled La Pensee 
chinoise [Paris: A. Michel, 1988]. It goes without saying that he cannot see in these 
notions anything but singularities, which he is at pains to explain exclusively in 
terms of ‘psychology’ and ‘sociology’, but there is no need to pay any attention here 
to such interpretations, for they are the inevitable outcome of the prejudices of 
modernity in general and of the universities in particular, only the noting of the 
fact being relevant here; from this point of view, a striking picture can be found in 
the book in question of the antithesis presented by a traditional civilization, on the 
one hand (and this would be no less true for any such civilization other than the 
Chinese) and the ‘quantitative’ civilization of the modern West on the other. 


of the available space are not to be overstepped, it must suffice for 
the present to formulate a few observations more directly con- 
nected with the subject of this book taken as a whole, referring 
wherever necessary in later chapters to relevant matters connected 
with the doctrine of cycles. The first of these observations is as fol- 
lows: not only has each phase of a temporal cycle, of whatever kind 
it may be, its peculiar quality that influences the determination of 
events, but the speed with which events are unfolded also depends 
on these phases, and is therefore of a qualitative rather than of a 
quantitative order. Therefore, in speaking of the speed of events in 
time, by analogy with the speed of displacement of a body in space, 
a certain transposition of the notion of speed has to be effected, for 
speed in time cannot be reduced to quantitative expression, as can 
be done in mechanics when speed properly so called is in question. 
What this means is that, according to the different phases of the 
cycle, sequences of events comparable one to another do not occupy 
quantitatively equal durations; this is particularly evident in the 
case of the great cycles, applicable both to the cosmic and to the 
human orders, the most notable example being furnished by the 
decreasing lengths of the respective durations of the four Yugas that 
together make up a Manvantara? For that very reason, events are 
being unfolded nowadays with a speed unexampled in the earlier 
ages, and this speed goes on increasing and will continue to increase 
up to the end of the cycle; there is thus something like a progressive 
‘contraction’ of duration, the limit of which corresponds to the 
‘stopping-point’ previously alluded to; it will be necessary to return 
to a special consideration of these matters later on, and to explain 
them more fully. 

The second observation is connected with the descending direc- 
tion of the cyclical movement, insofar as this movement is regarded 
as the chronological expression of a process of manifestation that 

3 . The decrease is known to be proportionate to the numbers 4, 3, 2, 1, their 
total, 10, comprising the entire cycle; human life itself is moreover well known to be 
considered as growing shorter from one age to another, which amounts to saying 
that life passes by with ever-increasing rapidity from the beginning to the end of a 


implies a gradual separation from the principle, a point we have 
referred to often enough that further insistence on it can be dis- 
pensed with. It is only mentioned again here because, taken in con- 
nection with what has just been said, it gives rise to a spatial analogy 
of considerable interest. The increase in the speed of events, as the 
end of the cycle draws near, can be compared to the acceleration 
that takes place in the fall of heavy bodies: the course of the develop- 
ment of the present humanity closely resembles the movement of a 
mobile body running down a slope and going faster as it approaches 
the bottom; and even though certain reactions operating in a con- 
trary sense complicate the matter to some extent (within the limits 
of the possibility of such reactions), nonetheless this comparison 
gives a very accurate picture of the cyclical movement looked at in a 
general way. 

Here, then, is a third and final observation. The descending 
movement of manifestation, and consequently that of the cycle of 
which it is an expression, takes place away from the positive or 
essential pole of existence toward its negative or substantial pole, 
and the result is that all things must progressively take on a decreas- 
ingly qualitative and an increasingly quantitative aspect; and that is 
why the last period of the cycle must show a very special tendency 
toward the establishment of a ‘reign of quantity’. Moreover, the 
statement that this must be so for all things does not merely imply 
that it must be so as seen from a human point of view, but also that 
a real modification of the ‘environment’ itself is involved. Each 
period of the history of humanity corresponds specifically to a 
determinate ‘cosmic moment’, so that there must necessarily be a 
constant correlation between the state of the world itself, or of what 
is called ‘nature’ in the usual sense of the word and more especially 
of the terrestrial environment, and the state of mankind, whose 
existence is evidently conditioned by that environment. It may be 
added that total ignorance of such cosmic modifications is not least 
among the causes of the incomprehension of modern science when- 
ever anything beyond certain limits is concerned; itself born of the 
very special conditions of the present period, this science is all too 
obviously incapable of conceiving other and different conditions, 
incapable even of the mere admission that anything of the kind 

44 the reign of quantity 

could exist; thus the point of view that constitutes the definition of 
modern science establishes ‘barriers’ in time, which it is as impossi- 
ble for science to break down as it is for a short-sighted person to 
see clearly beyond a certain distance; a true ‘intellectual myopia’ is 
indeed thoroughly characteristic in all respects of the modern and 
‘scientistic’ mentality. Later developments of this theme will lead to 
a better understanding of the nature of these modifications of the 
environment, which can only be alluded to now in quite a general 
way; but it may already have occurred to the reader that many 
things nowadays regarded as ‘fabulous’ were not at all so for the 
ancients, and even that they may still not be so for those who have 
retained, not only the possession of certain aspects of traditional 
knowledge, but also an outlook that allows them to reconstitute the 
shape of a ‘lost world’, as well as to foresee, at least in its broad out- 
lines, what will be the shape of a future world. For no other reason 
than that manifestation is ruled by cyclical laws, the past and the 
future are in analogical correspondence, so much so that, whatever 
the ordinary person may think, previsions of this kind have not 
really any ‘divinatory’ character whatever, but are founded entirely 
on what have been called the qualitative determinations of time. 


The natures of space and time have now been dealt with ade- 
quately for the purpose in view, but it is necessary to return to the 
subject of ‘matter’ in order to examine a question not so far men- 
tioned, in such a way as to shed a fresh light on certain aspects of 
the modern world. The scholastics looked on materia as constitut- 
ing the principium individuationis ; what was their reason for look- 
ing at things in that way, and how far was it justified? In order to 
understand what is involved in this question it is sufficient, without 
in any way going beyond the limits of our world (for no principle 
is here involved of a transcendent order with respect to this world) 
to envisage the relation of individuals to species; in this relation 
species is on the side of ‘form’ or essence, and individuals, or more 
exactly that which distinguishes individuals of the same species one 
from another, are on the side of ‘matter’ or substance. 1 There is 
nothing surprising in this, bearing in mind what has been said 
above about the meaning of the word e?8o<;, which is at once both 
‘form’ and ‘species’, and about the purely qualitative character of 

1. It should be pointed out that there is a difficulty in this connection, at least in 
appearance: in the hierarchy of kinds, if one considers the relation of one particular 
kind to a second less general kind, which is as it were a species in relation to the 
first, the first plays the part of ‘matter’ and the second the part of ‘form’; thus at first 
sight the relation appears to apply in a reverse direction, though actually it is not 
comparable to the relation of species to individuals; moreover, it is envisaged from 
a purely logical point of view, as if it were the relation of a subject and an attribute, 
the subject corresponding to the designation of the kind and the attribute to that of 
the ‘specific difference’. 


the latter; but the point needs some further elucidation, particu- 
larly, in the first place, in order to eliminate various terminological 
uncertainties likely to arise. 

It has already been explained why the word ‘matter’ can give rise 
to misunderstandings; the word ‘form’ is perhaps even more liable 
to do so, because its usual meaning is quite different from that 
which it bears in scholastic language; it was used in its usual mean- 
ing when the consideration of form in geometry was alluded to 
above, but if scholastic language had been used instead, it would 
have been necessary to say ‘figure’ and not ‘form’; to have done so 
would however have been unduly contrary to established usage, of 
which account must inevitably be taken if misunderstanding is to 
be avoided, and that is why the word ‘form’ is always used in this 
book in its ordinary meaning, except when it is used with particular 
reference to scholasticism. For instance, the word is used in its ordi- 
nary meaning in the statement that, of all the conditions of a state 
of existence, form is the one that specifically characterizes that state 
as individual; it goes without saying that form in this sense must in 
no way be conceived as endowed with a spatial character, for it is so 
endowed only in our world, because it is there combined with 
another condition, namely space, and space belongs to the domain 
of corporeal manifestation alone. But this question then arises: does 
not form thus understood, rather than ‘matter’ (or if preferred, 
quantity), represent the true ‘principle of individuation’, since indi- 
viduals are what they are by virtue of the fact that they are con- 
ditioned by form? So stated, this question represents a misunder- 
standing of what the scholastics in fact mean when they speak of a 
‘principle of individuation’; in no sense are they referring to that 
which defines a state of existence as an individual state, for they 
seem never to have attained to a conception quite of that order; and 
in any case, from this point of view, species itself must be regarded 
as being within the individual order, for it is in no way transcendent 
with regard to the state so defined. The same point can be made in 
another way, by making use of the geometrical representation 
described elsewhere, and in th^t case, the whole hierarchy of kinds 
must be envisaged as extending horizontally and not vertically. 


The real question of the ‘principle of individuation’ has a much 
more restricted range, and can be reduced to this: the individuals of 
any one species all participate in a common nature, which is that of 
the species itself, and is in all of them equally; how then does it 
come about that, in spite of this community of nature, these indi- 
viduals are distinct beings, or even that they are in any way distin- 
guishable one from another? It must be understood that individuals 
are now being considered only insofar as they belong to a species, 
independently of anything else that may be peculiar to them under 
other headings; the question could therefore well be formulated 
in this way: of what order is the determination which is added to 
specific nature so that individuals may become separate beings 
while remaining within the species? It is this determination that the 
scholastics relate to ‘matter’, that is to say ultimately to quantity, 
according to their definition of the materia secunda of our world; 
and thus ‘matter’ or quantity appears distinctly as a principle of 
‘separativity’. It can also be said that quantity is a determination 
added to species, as species is exclusively qualitative and so is inde- 
pendent of quantity, but such is not the case with individuals owing 
to the fact that they are ‘incorporated’; and in this connection the 
greatest care must be taken to note that, despite an erroneous opin- 
ion only too widespread among the moderns, species must in no 
way be conceived as a ‘collectivity’, the latter being nothing but an 
arithmetical sum of individuals; a ‘collectivity’ is, unlike species, 
entirely quantitative. Confusion between the general and the collec- 
tive is yet another consequence of the tendency that leads the 
moderns to see nothing anywhere other than quantity; it is this ten- 
dency which is constantly reappearing as a factor underlying all the 
conceptions characteristic of their particular mentality. 

The conclusion is this: quantity will predominate over quality in 
individuals to the extent that they approach a condition in which 
they are, so to speak, mere individuals and nothing more, and to the 
extent that they are thereby more separate one from another; and it 
must be emphasized that this does not mean that they are more 
differentiated, for there is also a qualitative differentiation, which is 
properly speaking the opposite of that quantitative differentiation in 


which the separation in question consists. This separation turns 
individuals into so many ‘units’, and turns their collectivity into 
quantitative multiplicity; at the limit, these individuals would be no 
more than something comparable to the imagined ‘atoms’ of the 
physicists, deprived of every qualitative determination; and al- 
though this limit can never in fact be reached, it lies in the direction 
which the world of today is following. A mere glance at things as 
they are is enough to make it clear that the aim is everywhere to 
reduce everything to uniformity, whether it be human beings them- 
selves or the things among which they live, and it is obvious that 
such a result can only be obtained by suppressing as far as possible 
every qualitative distinction; but it is particularly to be noted that 
some people, through a strange delusion, are all too willing to mis- 
take this ‘uniformization’ for a ‘unification’, whereas it is really 
exactly the opposite, as must appear evident in the light of the ever 
more marked accentuation of ‘separativity’ implied. It must be 
insisted that quantity can only separate and cannot unite; every- 
thing that proceeds from ‘matter’ produces nothing but antago- 
nism, in many diverse forms, between fragmentary ‘units’ that are at 
a point direcdy opposite to true unity, or at least are pressing toward 
that point with all the weight of a quantity no longer balanced by 
quality; but ‘uniformization’ constitutes so important an aspect of 
the modern world, and one so liable to be wrongly interpreted, that 
another chapter must be devoted to a fuller development of this 



If the domain of manifestation that constitutes our world is 
considered as a whole, it can be said that the existences contained 
therein, as they gradually move away from the principial unity, 
become progressively less qualitative and more quantitative. Prin- 
cipial unity, which contains synthetically within itself all the qualita- 
tive determinations of the possibilities of this domain, is in fact its 
essential pole, whereas its substantial pole, which evidently must 
become nearer as the other becomes more remote, is represented by 
pure quantity, with the indefinite atomic’ multiplicity it implies, 
and with the exclusion of any distinction between its elements other 
than the numerical. This gradual movement away from essential 
unity can be envisaged from a twofold point of view, that of simulta- 
neity and that of succession; this means that it can be seen as simul- 
taneous in the constitution of manifested beings, where its degrees 
determine for their constituent elements, or for the corresponding 
modalities, a sort of hierarchy; or alternatively as successive in the 
very movement of the whole of manifestation from the beginning to 
the end of a cycle: needless to say it is to the second point of view 
that attention will chiefly be directed in this book. In all cases how- 
ever the domain in question can be represented geometrically by a 
triangle of which the apex is the essential pole, which is pure quality, 
while the base is the substantial pole, which in our world is pure 
quantity, symbolized by the multiplicity of the points comprised in 
the base, and contrasted with the single point which is the apex; and 
if lines are drawn parallel to the base to represent different degrees of 
remoteness from the apex, it becomes clear that multiplicity, which 


symbolizes the quantitative, will be all the more accentuated as the 
base is approached and the apex left behind. Nevertheless, to make 
the symbol as exact as possible, the base must be supposed to be 
indefinitely remote from the apex, firstly because the domain of 
manifestation is in itself truly indefinite, and secondly so that the 
multiplicity of the points in the base may be, so to speak, brought to 
its maximum; this would also indicate in addition that the base, that 
is to say pure quantity, can never be reached in the course of the 
development of manifestation, though manifestation tends always 
more and more toward it; it would also indicate that from below a 
certain level the apex, that is to say essential unity or pure quality, 
would be more or less lost to view, and this corresponds precisely to 
the existing condition of our world. 

It was said earlier that in pure quantity the ‘units’ are only 
distinguished one from another numerically, there being indeed no 
other category in which a distinction can be made; but this alone 
makes it clear that pure quantity is really and necessarily beneath all 
manifested existence. It is useful to recall here what Leibnitz referred 
to as the ‘principle of indiscernibles’, by which he meant that there 
cannot exist anywhere two identical beings, that is to say, two beings 
alike in every respect. As has been pointed out elsewhere, this is an 
immediate consequence of the limitlessness of universal possibility, 
which carries with it the absence of all repetition in particular 
possibilities; it can indeed be said that if two beings are assumed to 
be identical they would not really be two, but, as coinciding in every 
respect, they would actually be but one and the same being; 
conversely, in order that beings may not be identical or indiscernible 
there must always be some qualitative difference between them, and 
their determinations can never be purely quantitative. Leibnitz 
expresses this by saying that it is never true that two beings, whatever 
they may be, differ solo numero , and this, in its application to bodies, 
overrides ‘mechanistic’ conceptions such as those of Descartes; and 
Leibnitz goes on to say that if they did not differ qualitatively ‘they 
would not even be beings,’ but something like divisions, exactly 
resembling each other, of a homogeneous space and time; such 
divisions have no real existence, but are only what the scholastics 
called entia rationis. In this connection it may be remarked that 


Leibnitz himself does not seem to have had an adequate idea of the 
nature of space and time, for when he defines space simply as an 
‘order of coexistence’ and time as an order of succession’ he is only 
considering them from a purely logical point of view, thereby 
reducing them to homogenous containers quite without quality and 
so with no effective existence, and he is taking no account whatever 
of their ontological nature, that is to say, of the real nature of space 
and time as manifested in our world, wherein they really exist as 
conditions determining the special mode of existence distinguished 
as corporeal existence. 

The conclusion that emerges clearly from all this is that unifor- 
mity, in order that it may be possible, presupposes beings deprived 
of all qualities and reduced to nothing more than simple numerical 
‘units’; also that no such uniformity is ever in fact realizable, while 
the result of all the efforts made to realize it, notably in the human 
domain, can only be to rob beings more or less completely of their 
proper qualities, thus turning them into something as nearly as pos- 
sible like mere machines; and machines, the typical product of the 
modern world, are the very things that represent, in the highest 
degree attained up till now, the predominance of quantity over 
quality. From a social viewpoint, ‘democratic’ and ‘egalitarian’ con- 
ceptions tend toward exactly the same end, for according to them all 
individuals are equivalent one to another. This idea carries with it 
the absurd supposition that everyone is equally well fitted for any- 
thing whatsoever, though nature provides no example of any such 
‘equality’, for the reasons already given, since it would imply noth- 
ing but a complete similitude between individuals; but it is obvious 
that, in the name of this assumed ‘equality’, which is one of the 
topsy-turvy ‘ideals’ most dear to the modern world, individuals are 
in fact directed toward becoming as nearly alike one to another as 
nature allows— and this in the first place by the attempt to impose a 
uniform education on everyone. It is no less obvious that differences 
of aptitude cannot in spite of everything be entirely suppressed, so 
that a uniform education will not give exactly the same results for 
all; but it is all too true that, although it cannot confer on anyone 
qualities that he does not possess, it is on the contrary very well 
fitted to suppress in everyone all possibilities above the common 


level; thus the ‘leveling’ always works downward: indeed, it could 
not work in any other way, being itself only an expression of the ten- 
dency toward the lowest, that is, toward pure quantity, situated as it 
is at a level lower than that of all corporeal manifestation— not only 
below the degree occupied by the most rudimentary of living 
beings, but also below that occupied by what our contemporaries 
have a habit of calling ‘lifeless matter’, though even this last, since it 
is manifested to our senses, is still far from being wholly denuded of 

The modern Westerner is moreover not content only to impose 
an education of that sort at home; he also wants to impose it on 
other peoples, together with the whole gamut of his own mental 
and bodily habits, so as to make all the world uniform, while at the 
same time he imposes uniformity on the outward aspect of the 
world by the diffusion of the products of his industry. The conse- 
quence, paradoxical only in appearance, is that to the extent that 
more uniformity is imposed on it, the world is by so much the less 
‘unified’ in the real sense of the word. This is really quite natural, 
since the direction in which it is dragged is, as explained already, 
that in which ‘separativity’ becomes more and more accentuated; 
and here the character of ‘parody’, so often met with in everything 
that is specifically modern, makes its appearance. In fact the impo- 
sition of uniformity, while actually leading in a direction exactly 
opposite to that of true unity, since it tends to realize that which is 
most remote therefrom, takes shape as a sort of caricature of unity, 
and it does so because of the analogical relation whereby, as was 
pointed out very early in this book, unity itself is inversely reflected 
in the ‘units’ that constitute pure quantity. It is this inversion that 
justified the earlier reference to a topsy-turvy ‘ideal’, and it can be 
seen that these words must in fact be understood in a very precise 
sense; nevertheless, it is by no means suggested that a rehabilitation 
of that word ‘ideal’ is in any way desirable, for it serves indifferently 
almost any purpose nowadays, and particularly that of masking the 
absence of all true principle; it is indeed so misused that it has by 
now come to be almost devoid of meaning. It is tempting however 
to observe that, according to its'actual derivation, it ought to denote 
a certain tendency toward the ‘idea’ understood more or less in the 


Platonic sense, that is to say toward essence and toward the qualita- 
tive, however vaguely these may be conceived, whereas most fre- 
quently, as in the case in question, it is used to designate their exact 

The existing tendency to impose uniformity not only on human 
individuals but also on things has already been alluded to: indeed 
the men of today boast of the ever growing extent of the modifica- 
tions they impose on the world, and the consequence is that every- 
thing is thereby made more and more ‘artificial’, for this is the very 
result that these modifications are calculated to produce, since all 
their activity is directed toward a domain as strictly quantitative as 
possible. Besides, as soon as the desire to produce a purely quantita- 
tive science arose, it became inevitable that the practical applica- 
tions derived from that science should share its character; these 
applications as a whole are generally designated by the name of 
‘industry’, and modern industry can be said to represent from all 
points of view the triumph of quantity, because its operations do 
not demand any knowledge other than quantitative, and because 
the instruments of which it makes use, that is to say machines prop- 
erly so called, are developed in such a way that qualitative consider- 
ations come in to the least possible extent, while the men who work 
them are themselves limited to activity of an entirely mechanical 
kind— quality also being completely sacrificed to quantity in the 
actual products of industry. A few more observations can usefully 
be made in order to cover this subject adequately, but before pro- 
ceeding with them, a question which will be returned to later may 
be interpolated: whatever may be thought about the value of the 
results of the action that modern man applies to the world, it is a 
fact, independently of any estimation of values, that this action suc- 
ceeds, and that at least to a certain extent, it reaches the ends at 
which it aims; if the men of another period had acted in the same 
way (but this is a wholly ‘theoretical’ and unrealistic supposition, in 
view of the actual mental differences between these men and those 
of today) would the results have been the same? In other words, in 
order that the terrestrial environment may be suitable for such 
action, must it not be in some way predisposed thereto by the cos- 
mic conditions of the cyclic period in which we now are; that is, 

54 the reign of quantity 

must there not be something in that environment which, with ref- 
erence to earlier periods, has undergone a change? It would be pre- 
mature to go fully into the nature of that change at this point, or to 
do more than characterize it as being necessarily of the nature of a 
qualitative diminution, allowing a firmer hold to everything that 
springs from quantity; but what has been said about the qualitative 
determinations of time at least makes the possibility of a change of 
this kind conceivable and renders understandable the idea that the 
artificial modifications of the world, in order that they may come 
about, must presuppose natural modifications to which they merely 
correspond or conform in one way or another, by virtue of the cor- 
relation that invariably exists in the cyclical movement of time 
between the cosmic order and the human order. 



There is a great contrast between what the ancient crafts 
used to be and what modern industry now is, and it presents in its 
essentials another particular case and at the same time a practical 
application of the contrast between the qualitative and quantitative 
points of view, which predominate in the one and in the other 
respectively. In order to see why this is so, it is useful to note first of 
all that the distinction between the arts and the crafts, or between 
‘artist’ and ‘artisan’, is itself something specifically modern, as if it 
had been born of the deviation and degeneration which have led to 
the replacement in all fields of the traditional conception by the 
profane conception. To the ancients the artifex was indifferently the 
man who practised an art or a craft; but he was, to tell the truth, 
something that neither the artist nor the artisan is today, if those 
words are used in the modern sense (moreover the word ‘artisan’ 
tends more and more to disappear from contemporary language); 
he was something more than either the one or the other because, at 
least originally, his activity was bound up with principles of a much 
more profound order. If the crafts used to comprehend in one way 
or another the arts properly so called, since the two were not then 
separated by any essential characteristic, it is because the nature of 
the crafts was truly qualitative, for nobody can refuse to admit that 
such is the nature of art, more or less by definition. Nevertheless the 
moderns, for that very reason, narrowly restrict their conception of 
art, and relegate it to a sort of closed domain having no connection 
with the rest of human activity, that is, with what they regard as 
constituting ‘reality’, using the word in the very crude sense it bears 


for them; and they go so far as freely to attribute to art, thus robbed 
of all practical significance, the character of a ‘luxury’, a term thor- 
oughly characteristic of what could without any exaggeration be 
called the ‘silliness’ of our period. 

In every traditional civilization, as there has often been occasion 
to point out, every human activity of whatever kind is always 
regarded as derived essentially from principles. This is conspicu- 
ously true for the sciences, and it is no less true for the arts and the 
crafts, and there is in addition a close connection between them all, 
for according to a formula postulated as a fundamental axiom by 
the builders of the Middle Ages, ars sine scientia nihil ; the science in 
question is of course traditional science, and certainly not modern 
science, the application of which can give birth to nothing except 
modern industry. By this attachment to principles human activity 
could be said to be as it were ‘transformed’, and instead of being 
limited to what it is in itself, namely, a mere external manifestation 
(and the profane point of view consists in this and nothing else), it 
is integrated with the tradition, and constitutes for those who carry 
it out an effective means of participation in the tradition, and this is 
as much as to say that it takes on a truly ‘sacred’ and ‘ritual’ charac- 
ter. That is why it can be said that, in any such civilization, ‘every 
occupation is a priesthood’; 1 but in order to avoid conferring on 
this last word a more or less unwarrantable extension of meaning, if 
not a wholly false one, it must be made clear that priesthood is not 
priesthood unless it possesses something that has been preserved in 
the sacerdotal functions alone, ever since the time when the previ- 
ously non-existent distinction between the sacred and the profane 

To see what is meant by the ‘sacred’ character of the whole of 
human activity, even only from an exterior or, if preferred, exoteric 
point of view, it is only necessary to consider a civilization like the 
Islamic, or the Christian civilization of the Middle Ages; it is easy to 
see that in them the most ordinary actions of life have something 
‘religious’ in them. In such civilizations religion is not something 

1. A.M. Hocart, Les Castes (Paris: P. Geuthner, 1938), P27. [Caste: A Compara- 
tive Study (New York: Russell and Russell, 1968).] 


restricted, narrowly bounded and occupying a place apart, without 
effective influence on anything else, as it is for modern Westerners 
(at least for those who still consent to admit religion at all); on the 
contrary it penetrates the whole existence of the human being, or 
better, it embraces within its domain everything which constitutes 
that existence, and particularly social life properly so called, so 
much so that there is really nothing left that is ‘profane’, except in 
the case of those who for one reason or another are outside the tra- 
dition, but any such case then represents no more than a mere 
anomaly. Elsewhere, where the word ‘religion’ cannot properly be 
applied to the form of the civilization considered, there is nonethe- 
less a traditional and ‘sacred’ legislation that plays an equivalent 
part though it has a different character, similar considerations thus 
applying to all traditional civilizations without exception. But there 
is something more: looking at esoterism rather than exoterism 
(these words being used for convenience although they do not 
strictly apply to all cases in the same way) it becomes clear that 
there exists, generally speaking, an initiation linked to the crafts and 
taking them as its base or its ‘support’; 2 these crafts must therefore 
be capable of a superior and more profound significance if they are 
to provide effectively a way of access to the initiatic domain, and it is 
evidently by reason of their essentially qualitative character that 
such a thing is possible. 

The notion that helps most toward an understanding of this 
point is that which the Hindu doctrine calls svadharma. In itself this 
notion is entirely qualitative, since it implies the accomplishment by 
every being of an activity conformable to its own particular essence 
or nature, and thereby eminently conformable to ‘order’ ( rita ) in the 
sense already explained; and it is this same notion, or rather its 
absence, that indicates so clearly where the profane and modern 
conception fails. Indeed, according to the modern conception a 
man can adopt any profession, and even change it to suit his whim, 

2. It may be noted that all that still persists in the way of authentically initiatic 
organizations in the West, whatever may be their present state of decadence, has no 
other origin than this. Initiations belonging to other categories disappeared com- 
pletely a long time ago. 


as if the profession were something wholly outside himself, having 
no real connection with what he really is, that by virtue of which he 
is himself and not anyone else. According to the traditional concep- 
tion, on the other hand, each person must normally fulfil the func- 
tion for which he is destined by his own nature, using the particular 
aptitudes essentially implicit in that nature as such ; 3 he cannot fulfill 
a different function except at the cost of a serious disorder, which 
will have its repercussions on the whole social organization of which 
he is a part; and much more than this, if that kind of disorder 
becomes general, it will begin to have an effect on the cosmic envi- 
ronment itself, since all things are linked together by rigorous corre- 
spondences. Without developing this last point any further, 
although an application to modern conditions might well be made, 
what has been said so far can be summarized thus: according to the 
traditional conception, it is the essential qualities of beings that 
determine their activity; according to the profane conception on the 
other hand, these qualities are no longer taken into account, and 
individuals are regarded as no more than interchangeable and 
purely numerical ‘units’. The latter conception can only logically 
lead to the exercise of a wholly ‘mechanical’ activity, in which there 
remains nothing truly human, and that is exactly what we can see 
happening today. It need hardly be said that the ‘mechanical’ activi- 
ties of the moderns, which constitute industry properly so called 
and are only a product of the profane deviation, can afford no possi- 
bility of an initiatic kind, and further, that they cannot be anything 
but obstacles to the development of all spirituality; indeed they can- 
not properly be regarded as authentic crafts, if that word is to retain 
the force of its traditional meaning. 

If the craft is as it were a part of the man himself and a manifesta- 
tion or expansion of his own nature, it is easy to see how it can serve 
as a basis for an initiation, and why it is the best possible basis in a 

3. It should be noted that the French word metier is etymologically derived 
from the Latin ministerium, and properly means ‘function’. [The word metier is 
here translated as ‘craft’. Its exact meaning is somewhere between ‘craft’ and ‘voca- 
tion’ as commonly understood today, and it does not appear to have a precise 
equivalent in modern English. Tr.] 


majority of cases. Initiation has in fact as its objective the surpassing 
of the possibilities of the human individual as such, but it is no less 
true that it can only take that individual such as he is as starting- 
point, and then only by taking hold as it were of his superior side, 
that is, by attaching itself to whatever in him is most truly qualita- 
tive; hence the diversity of initiatic paths, in other words, of the 
means made use of as ‘supports’ in order to conform to the differ- 
ences of individual natures; these differences become, however, of 
less importance as time goes on, in proportion as the being 
advances on its path and thus approaches the end which is the same 
for all. The means employed cannot be effective unless they really fit 
the very nature of the being to whom they are applied; and since it 
is necessary to work from what is more accessible toward what is 
less so, from the exterior toward the interior, it is normal to choose 
them from within the activity by which its nature is manifested out- 
wardly. But it is obvious that this activity cannot be used in any 
such way except insofar as it effectively expresses the interior nature; 
thus the question really becomes one of ‘qualification’ in the initi- 
atic sense of the word; and in normal conditions, the very same 
‘qualification’ ought to be a requirement for the practice of the craft 
itself. All this is also connected with the fundamental difference that 
separates initiatic teaching, and more generally all traditional teach- 
ing, from profane teaching. That which is simply ‘learned’ from the 
outside is quite valueless in the former case, however great may be 
the quantity of the notions accumulated (for here too profane 
‘learning’ shows clearly the mark of quantity); what counts is, on 
the contrary, an ‘awakening’ of the latent possibilities that the being 
carries in itself (which is, in the final analysis, the real significance of 
the Platonic ‘reminiscence’). 4 

These last considerations make it understandable that initiation, 
using the craft as ‘support’, has at the same time, and as it were in a 
complementary sense, a repercussion on the practice of the craft. 
The craftsman, having fully realized the possibilities of which his 
professional activity is but the outward expression, and thus pos- 
sessing the effective knowledge of that which is the very principle of 

4. On this subject see particularly the Meno of Plato. 


his activity, will thenceforth consciously accomplish what was pre- 
viously only a quite ‘instinctive’ consequence of his nature; and 
thus, since for him initiatic knowledge is born of the craft, the craft 
in its turn will become the field of application of the knowledge, 
from which it will no longer be possible to separate it. There will 
then be a perfect correspondence between the interior and the exte- 
rior, and the work produced can then become the expression, no 
longer only to a certain degree and in a more or less superficial way, 
but the really adequate expression, of him who conceived and exe- 
cuted it, and it will then constitute a ‘masterpiece’ in the true sense 
of the word. 

There is thus no difficulty in seeing how far removed true craft is 
from modern industry, so much so that the two are as it were oppo- 
sites, and how far it is unhappily true that in the ‘reign of quantity’ 
the craft is, as the partisans of ‘progress’ so readily declare, a ‘thing 
of the past’. The workman in industry cannot put into his work 
anything of himself, and a lot of trouble would even be taken to pre- 
vent him if he had the least inclination to try to do so; but he cannot 
even try, because all his activity consists solely in making a machine 
go, and because in addition he is rendered quite incapable of initia- 
tive by the professional ‘formation’— or rather deformation— he has 
received, which is practically the antithesis of the ancient appren- 
ticeship, and has for its sole object to teach him to execute certain 
movements ‘mechanically’ and always in the same way, without 
having at all to understand the reason for them or to trouble him- 
self about the result, for it is not he, but the machine, that will really 
fabricate the object. Servant of the machine, the man must become 
a machine himself, and thenceforth his work has nothing really 
human in it, for it no longer implies the putting to work of any of 
the qualities that really constitute human nature . 5 The end of all 
this is what is called in present-day jargon ‘mass-production’, the 

5. It may be remarked that the machine is in a sense the opposite of the tool, 
and is in no way a ‘perfected tool’ as many imagine, for the tool is in a sense a ‘pro- 
longation’ of the man himself, whereas the machine reduces the man to being no 
more than its servant; and, if it was true to say that ‘the tool engenders the craft’, it 
is no less true that the machine kills it; the instinctive reactions of the artisans 
against the first machines thus explain themselves. 


purpose of which is only to produce the greatest possible quantity 
of objects, and of objects as exactly alike as possible, intended for 
the use of men who are supposed to be no less alike; that is indeed 
the triumph of quantity, as was pointed out earlier, and it is by the 
same token the triumph of uniformity. These men who are reduced 
to mere numerical ‘units’ are expected to live in what can scarcely be 
called houses, for that would be to misuse the word, but in ‘hives’ of 
which the compartments will all be planned on the same model, 
and furnished with objects made by ‘mass-production’, in such a 
way as to cause to disappear from the environment in which the 
people live every qualitative difference; it is enough to examine the 
projects of some contemporary architects (who themselves describe 
these dwellings as ‘living-machines’) in order to see that nothing 
has been exaggerated. What then has happened to the traditional 
art and science of the ancient builders, or to the ritual rules by 
which the establishment of cities and of buildings was regulated in 
normal civilizations? It would be useless to press the matter further, 
for one would have to be blind to fail to see the abyss that separates 
the normal from the modern civilization, and no doubt everyone 
will agree in recognizing how great the difference is; but that which 
the vast majority of men now living celebrate as ‘progress’ is exactly 
what is now presented to the reader as a profound decadence, con- 
tinuously accelerating, which is dragging humanity toward the pit 
where pure quantity reigns. 



In connection with the traditional conception of the crafts, 
which is but one with that of the arts, there is another important 
question to which attention must be drawn: the works of traditional 
art, those of medieval art, for instance, are generally anonymous, 
and it is only very recently that attempts have been made, as a result 
of modern ‘individualism’, to attach the few names preserved in his- 
tory to known masterpieces, even though such ‘attributions’ are 
often very hypothetical. This anonymity is just the opposite of the 
constant preoccupation of modern artists to affirm and to make 
known above all their own individualities; on the other hand, a 
superficial observer might think that it is comparable to the ano- 
nymity of the products of present-day industry, although the latter 
have no claim whatever to be called ‘works of art’; but the truth is 
quite otherwise, for although there is indeed anonymity in both 
cases, it is for exactly contrary reasons. It is the same with anonym- 
ity as with many other things which by virtue of the inversion of 
analogy, can be taken either in a superior or in an inferior sense: 
thus, for example, in a traditional social organization, an individual 
can be outside the castes in two ways, either because he is above 
them ( ativarna ) or because he is beneath them ( avarna ), and it is 
evident that these cases represent two opposite extremes. In a simi- 
lar way, those among the moderns who consider themselves to be 
outside all religion are at the' extreme opposite point from those 
who, having penetrated to the principial unity of all the traditions, 


are no longer tied to any particular traditional form . 1 In relation to 
the conditions of the normal humanity, or to what may be called its 
‘mean’, one category is below the castes and the other beyond: it 
could be said that one has fallen to the ‘infra-human’ and the other 
has risen to the ‘supra-human’. Now, anonymity itself can be char- 
acteristic both of the ‘infra-human’ and of the ‘supra-human’: the 
first case is that of modern anonymity, the anonymity of the crowd 
or the ‘masses’ as they are called today (and this use of the highly 
quantitative word ‘mass’ is very significant), and the second case is 
that of traditional anonymity in its manifold applications, includ- 
ing its application to works of art. 

In order to understand this properly, recourse must be had to the 
doctrinal principles that are common to all the traditions. The 
being that has attained a supra-individual state is, by that fact alone, 
released from all the limiting conditions of individuality, that is to 
say it is beyond the determinations of ‘name and form’ ( nama-rupa ) 
that constitute the essence and the substance of its individuality as 
such; thus it is truly ‘anonymous’, because in it the ‘ego’ has effaced 
itself and disappeared completely before the ‘Self ’. 2 Those who have 
not effectively attained to such a state must at least, as far as their 
capabilities permit, use every endeavour to reach it; and they must 
consequently and no less consistently ensure that their activity imi- 
tates the corresponding anonymity, so that it might be said to par- 
ticipate therein to a certain extent, and it will then furnish a 
‘support’ for a spiritual realization to come. This is specially notice- 
able in monastic institutions, whether Christian or Buddhist, where 
what may be called the ‘practice’ of anonymity is always kept up, 
even if its deeper meaning is too often forgotten; but it would be 
wrong to suppose that the reflection of that kind of anonymity in 
the social order is confined to this particular case, for that would be 

1 . Such people could say with Muhyi ’d-Dln ibn al- ‘Arab!: ‘My heart has 
become capable of all forms: it is a pasture for gazelles and a monastery for Chris- 
tian monks, and a temple for idols, and the Kaabah of the pilgrim, and the table of 
the Thorah and the book of the Quran. I am the religion of Love, whatever road his 
camels may take; my religion and my faith are the true religion.’ 

2 . On this subject, see A.K. Coomaraswamy, ‘ Akimchaiimi : Self-Naughting’, 
New Indian Antiquary (Bombay) 3 (1940). 


to give way to the illusion of the distinction between ‘sacred’ and 
‘profane’, a distinction which, let it be said once more, does not exist 
and has not even any meaning in strictly traditional societies. What 
has been said about the ‘ritual’ character of the whole of human 
activity in such societies explains this sufficiently, and, particularly 
as far as the crafts are concerned, it has been shown that their char- 
acter was such that it was thought right to speak of ‘priesthood’ in 
connection with them; there is therefore nothing remarkable in the 
fact that in them anonymity was the rule, because it represents true 
conformity to the ‘order’ which the artifex must apply himself to 
realize as perfectly as possible in everything he does. 

Here an objection might be raised: the craft must conform to the 
intrinsic nature of him who practices it, and we have seen that the 
product will then necessarily express his nature, and that when that 
expression is really adequate the product can be regarded as perfect 
of its kind, or as being a ‘masterpiece’; now this nature is the essen- 
tial aspect of the individuality, the aspect defined by the ‘name’; is 
there not something here that seems to point toward the very 
reverse of anonymity? In order to answer this, it must first be 
pointed out that, despite all the false Western interpretations of 
notions such as those of Moksha and Nirvana , the extinction of the 
‘ego’ is in no sense an annihilation of the being, on the contrary, it 
implies something like a ‘sublimation’ of its possibilities (without 
which, it may be remarked in passing, the very idea of ‘resurrection’ 
would have no meaning); doubtless the artifex , who is still in the 
individual human state, can do no more than tend toward such a 
‘sublimation’, but the very fact that he keeps his anonymity will be 
for him the sign of this ‘transforming’ tendency. It can also be said 
that, in relation to society itself, it is not inasmuch as he is ‘such and 
such a person’ that the artifex produces his work, but inasmuch as 
he fulfils a certain ‘function’ that is properly ‘organic’ and not 
‘mechanical’ (marking thus the fundamental difference between 
such work and modern industry), and he must identify himself as 
far as possible with this function in his work; and this identification, 
while it is the means of his own ‘spiritual discipline’, gives to some 
extent the measure of the effectiveness of his participation in the tra- 
ditional organization, into which he is incorporated by the practice 


of his particular craft itself and in which he occupies the place truly 
suited to his nature. Thus, however one looks at the matter, ano- 
nymity appears to be in one way or another the normal thing; and 
even when everything that it implies in principle cannot be effec- 
tively realized, there must at least be a relative anonymity, in the 
sense that, particularly where there has been an initiation based on 
the craft, the profane or ‘exterior’ individuality known as ‘such an 
one, son of such an one’ will disappear in everything connected 
with the practice of the craft . 3 

If now we move to the other extreme, that represented by modern 
industry, we see that here too the worker is anonymous, but it is be- 
cause his product expresses nothing of himself and is not really his 
work, the part he plays in its production being purely ‘mechanical’. 
Indeed the worker as such really has no ‘name’, because in his work 
he is but a mere numerical ‘unit’ with no qualities of his own, and he 
could be replaced by any other equivalent ‘unit’, that is, by any other 
worker, without any change in what is produced by their work . 4 
Thus, as was said earlier, his activity no longer comprises anything 
truly human, and so far from interpreting or at least reflecting 
something ‘supra-human’ it is itself brought down to the ‘infra- 
human’, and it even tends toward the lowest degree of that condi- 
tion, that is to say, toward a modality as completely quantitative as 
any that can be realized in the manifested world. This ‘mechanical’ 
activity of the worker represents only a particular case (actually the 
most typical that can be found under present conditions, because 

3. It will easily be understood from this why, in craft initiations such as 
Compagnonnage just as much as in religious orders, it is forbidden to designate an 
individual by his profane name; there is still a name, and therefore an individuality, 
but it is an individuality already ‘transformed’, at least virtually, by the very fact of 
initiation. [Regarding the Compagnonnage, see Perspectives on Initiation, chap. 5, 
n6; also Studies in Freemasonry and the Compagnonnage. Ed.] 

4. There could only be a quantitative difference, because one worker may work 
faster than another (and all the ‘ability’ that is demanded of him consists only in 
such speed), but from the qualitative point of view the product would always be the 
same, since it is determined neither by the worker’s mental conception of the work 
nor by a manual dexterity directed to giving it its outward shape, but only by the 
performance of the machine, the man having nothing to do but to ensure its proper 


industry is the domain in which modern conceptions have suc- 
ceeded in expressing themselves most completely) of the way of life 
that the peculiar ‘idealism’ of our contemporaries seeks to impose 
on all human individuals in all the circumstances of their existence. 
This is an immediate consequence of the so-called ‘egalitarian’ ten- 
dency, in other words, of the tendency to uniformity, which 
demands that individuals shall be treated as mere numerical ‘units’, 
thus realizing equality by a leveling down, for that is the only direc- 
tion in which equality can be reached ‘in the limit’, that is to say, 
in which it is possible, if not to reach it altogether (for as we have 
seen to do so is incompatible with the very conditions of manifested 
existence) at least to continue indefinitely to approach it, until the 
‘stopping point’ that will mark the end of the present world is 

Anyone who wonders what happens to the individual in such 
conditions will find that, because of the ever growing predomi- 
nance of quantity over quality in the individual, he is so to speak 
reduced to his substantial aspect, called in the Hindu doctrine rupa 
(and in fact he can never lose form without thereby losing all exist- 
ence, for form is what defines individuality as such), and this 
amounts to saying that he becomes scarcely more than what would 
be described in current language as ‘a body without a soul’, and that 
in the most literal sense of the words. From such an individual the 
qualitative or essential aspect has indeed almost disappeared 
(‘almost’, because the limit can never actually be reached); and as 
that aspect is precisely the aspect called nama, the individual really 
no longer has any ‘name’ that belongs to him, because he is emptied 
of the qualities which that name should express; he is thus really 
‘anonymous’, but in the inferior sense of the word. This is the ano- 
nymity of the ‘masses’ of which the individual is part and in which 
he loses himself, those ‘masses’ that are no more than a collection of 
similar individuals, regarded purely and simply as so many arith- 
metical ‘units’. ‘Units’ of that sort can be counted, and the collectiv- 
ity they make up can thus be numerically evaluated, the result being 
by definition only a quantity; but in no way can each one of them be 
given a denomination indicating that he is distinguished from the 
others by some qualitative difference. 


It has been said that the individual loses himself in the ‘masses’ or 
at least that he tends more and more to lose himself; this ‘confusion’ 
in quantitative multiplicity corresponds, again by inversion, to 
‘fusion in the principial unity. In that unity the being possesses all 
the fullness of his possibilities ‘transformed’, so that it can be said 
that distinction understood in the qualitative sense is there carried 
to its supreme degree, while at the same time all separation has dis- 
appeared ; 5 in pure quantity, on the other hand, separation is at its 
maximum, since in quantity resides the very principle of separativ- 
ity, and the being is the more ‘separated’ and shut up in himself the 
more narrowly his possibilities are limited, that is, the less his essen- 
tial aspect comprises of quality; but at the same time, since he is to 
that extent less distinguished qualitatively from the bulk of the 
‘masses’, he really tends to become confused with it. The word ‘con- 
fusion’ is particularly appropriate here because it evokes the wholly 
potential indistinction of ‘chaos’, and nothing less than chaos is in 
fact in question, since the individual tends to be reduced to his sub- 
stantial aspect alone, which is what the scholastics would call a 
‘matter without form’ where all is in potency and nothing in act, so 
that the final term, if it could be attained, would be a real ‘dissolu- 
tion’ of everything that has any positive reality in the individual; 
and for the very reason that they are extreme opposites, this confu- 
sion of beings in uniformity appears as a sinister and ‘satanic’ par- 
ody of their fusion in unity. 

5. This is the meaning of Eckhart’s expression ‘fused, but not confused’, which 
A.K. Coomaraswamy, in the article mentioned earlier, very pointedly compares 
with the meaning of the Sanskrit expression bhedabheda , ‘distinction without dif- 
ference’, that is, without separation. 



Returning now to the consideration of the more specifi- 
cally ‘scientific’ point of view as the modern world understands it, 
its chief characteristic is obviously that it seeks to bring everything 
down to quantity, anything that cannot be so treated being left out 
of account and is regarded as more or less non-existent. Nowadays 
people commonly think and say that anything that cannot be ‘put 
into figures’, or in other words, cannot be expressed in purely quan- 
titative terms, for that reason lacks any ‘scientific’ value; and this 
assumption holds sway not only in ‘physics’ in the ordinary sense of 
the word, but in all the sciences ‘officially’ recognized as such in 
these days, and as we have seen, even the psychological domain is 
not beyond its reach. It has been made sufficiently clear in earlier 
chapters that this outlook involves losing touch with everything 
that is truly essential, in the strictest interpretation of the word; also 
that the ‘residue’ that alone comes within the grasp of such a science 
is in reality quite incapable of explaining anything whatever; but 
there is one highly characteristic feature of modern science that 
deserves further emphasis, for it indicates with particular distinct- 
ness how far science deludes itself about what can be deduced from 
mere numerical evaluations; this feature is moreover directly con- 
nected with the subject of the previous chapter. 

The tendency to uniformity, which extends into the ‘natural’ 
domain and is not confined to the human domain alone, leads to 
the idea, which even becomes established as a sort of principle (only 
it ought to be called a ‘pseudo-principle’), that there exist repeti- 
tions of identical phenomena; but this, by virtue of the ‘principle of 


indiscernibles’, is no more than a sheer impossibility. A good exam- 
ple of this idea is afforded by the current assertion that ‘the same 
causes always produce the same effects’, and this, enunciated in that 
form, is inherently absurd, for there cannot in fact ever be the same 
causes or the same effects in a successional order of manifestation; is 
it not quite commonplace for people to go so far as to say that ‘his- 
tory repeats itself, whereas the truth is only that there are analogical 
correspondences between certain periods and certain events? It 
would be correct to say that causes that are comparable one to 
another in certain connections produce effects similarly comparable 
in the same connections; but, alongside the resemblances, which 
can if desired be held to represent a kind of partial identity, there are 
always and inevitably differences, because of the simple fact that 
there are by hypothesis two distinct things in question and not only 
one single thing. It is true that these differences, for the very reason 
that they represent qualitative distinctions, become less as the 
degree of manifestation of the things considered becomes lower, 
and that consequently there is then a corresponding increase of 
resemblance, so that in some cases a superficial and incomplete 
observation might give the impression of a sort of identity; but 
actually differences are never wholly eliminated, and this must be so 
in the case of anything that is not beneath the level of manifestation 
altogether. Even if there were no differences left other than those 
arising from the ever-changing influence of time and place, they 
could still never be entirely negligible; it is true however that this 
cannot be understood unless account is taken of the fact that real 
space and time are not, as modern conceptions would have them, 
merely homogenous containers and modes of pure quantity, but 
that on the contrary temporal and spatial determinations have also 
a qualitative aspect. However that may be, it is legitimate to ask how 
people who neglect differences, and as it were refuse to see them, can 
possibly claim that an ‘exact’ science has been built up; strictly and 
in fact there can be no ‘exact’ science but pure mathematics, which 
happens to be concerned with the domain of quantity alone. That 
being the case, all the rest of modern science is, and can only be, a 
tissue of more or less crude approximations, and that not only in its 
applications, in which everyone is compelled to acknowledge the 


inevitable imperfection of the means of observation and measure- 
ment, but even from a purely theoretical point of view as well: the 
unrealizable suppositions that provide almost the entire foundation 
of ‘classical’ mechanics, while these in turn provide the basis for the 
whole of modern physics, could be used to furnish a multitude of 
characteristic examples . 1 

The founding of a science more or less on the notion of repetition 
brings in its train yet another delusion of a quantitative kind, the 
delusion that consists in thinking that the accumulation of a large 
number of facts can be of use by itself as ‘proof’ of a theory; never- 
theless, even a little reflection will make it evident that facts of the 
same kind are always indefinite in multitude, so that they can never 
all be taken into account, quite apart from the consideration that 
the same facts usually fit several different theories equally well. It will 
be said that the establishment of a greater number of facts does at 
least give more ‘probability’ to a theory; but to say so is to admit that 
no certitude can be arrived at in that way, and that therefore the 
conclusions promulgated have nothing ‘exact’ about them; it is also 
an admission of the wholly ‘empirical’ character of modern science, 
although, by a strange irony, its partisans are pleased to accuse of 
‘empiricism’ the knowledge of the ancients, whereas exactly the 
opposite is the truth: for this ancient knowledge, of the true nature 
of which they have no idea whatever, started from principles and 
not from experimental observations, so that it can truly be said that 
profane science is built up exactly the opposite way round to tradi- 
tional science. Furthermore, insufficient as ‘empiricism’ is in itself, 
that of modern science is very far from being integral, since it 
neglects or sets aside a considerable part of the evidence of experi- 
ence, the very part that has a specifically qualitative character; for 
perceptual experience cannot, any more than any other kind of 
experience, have a bearing on pure quantity as its object, and the 
nearer is the approach to pure quantity the greater is the distance 

1. Where, for example, has anyone ever seen a ‘heavy material point’, or a ‘per- 
fectly elastic solid’, an ‘unstretchable and weightless thread’, or any other of the no 
less imaginary ‘entities’ with which this science is replete, though it is regarded as 
being above all else ‘rational’. 


from the reality which nevertheless is supposed to be grasped and to 
be explained; in fact it is not at all difficult to see that the most 
recent theories are also those that have the least relation to reality, 
and most readily replace it by ‘conventions’. These conventions can- 
not be said to be wholly arbitrary, for it is not really possible that 
they should be so, since the making of any convention necessarily 
involves there being some reason for making it, but at least they are 
as arbitrary as possible; that is to say, they have as it were only a 
minimum of foundation in the true nature of things. 

It has just been said that modern science, simply because it tries 
to be entirely quantitative, fails to take account of differences 
between particular facts even in cases where those differences are 
most accentuated, and such cases are naturally those in which qual- 
itative elements have the greatest predominance over quantitative 
elements; and it can be said that this is why the greater part of reality 
eludes it, and why the partial and inferior aspect of truth that it can 
grasp in spite of all its failings (because total error could have no 
meaning other than that of pure negation) is reduced to almost 
nothing. This is more particularly the case when facts within the 
human order come under consideration, for these are the most 
qualitative of all those that modern science regards as included in its 
domain; science is determined nonetheless to treat them exactly like 
other facts, such as are concerned not only with ‘organized matter’ 
but even with ‘matter in the raw’, for it has in the end only one 
method, which it applies uniformly to the most diverse objects, pre- 
cisely because, by reason of its special point of view, it is incapable of 
perceiving what are the essential differences between facts. And it is 
above all in the human order, whether in the field of history or ‘soci- 
ology’ or ‘psychology’ or any other kind of study that could be 
named, that the fallacious character of the ‘statistics’ to which the 
moderns attach so much importance becomes most apparent; here 
as elsewhere, statistics really consist only in the counting up of a 
greater or lesser number of facts that are all supposed to be exactly 
alike, for if they were not so their addition would be meaningless; 
and it is evident that the picture thus obtained represents a defor- 
mation of the truth, and the less the facts taken into account are 
alike or really comparable, or the greater is the relative importance 


and complexity of the qualitative elements involved, the worse is the 
deformation. Nonetheless, the setting out of figures and calcula- 
tions gives to the statistician, as it is intended to give to other people, 
a kind of illusion of ‘exactitude’ that might be called ‘pseudo-mathe- 
matical’; but in fact, without its being noticed and because of the 
strength of preconceived ideas, almost any desired conclusion is 
drawn indifferently from such figures, so completely without signifi- 
cance are they in themselves. The proof of this is that the same sta- 
tistics in the hands of several experts, even though they may all be 
‘specialists’ in the same line, often give rise, according to the respec- 
tive theories of the experts, to quite different conclusions, which 
may even sometimes be diametrically opposed. That being the case, 
the self-styled ‘exact’ sciences of the moderns, to the extent that they 
make use of statistics and go so far as to extract from them predic- 
tions for the future (relying always on the supposed identicality of 
the facts taken into account, whether past or future), are really no 
more than mere ‘conjectural’ sciences, to use an expression freely 
employed by the promoters of a kind of modern astrology dubbed 
‘scientific’; and in employing this term they admit more freely than 
many other people what their astrology really consists in, for it cer- 
tainly has only the vaguest and most remote connection, perhaps no 
more than that of a common terminology, with the true traditional 
astrology of the ancients, which is today as completely lost as all 
other knowledge of the same order. This ‘neo-astrology’ does actu- 
ally make great use of statistics in its efforts to establish itself ‘empir- 
ically’ and without attaching itself to any principle, statistics indeed 
playing a preponderant part in it; and that is the very reason why it 
is thought right to adorn it with the epithet ‘scientific’, whereby the 
scientific character of the true astrology is implicitly denied, and 
this denial is again very significant and very characteristic of the 
modern mentality. 

To assume that facts are identical when they are really only of the 
same kind, or comparable only in certain respects, while it contrib- 
utes toward the illusion of an ‘exact’ science, as has already been 
explained, satisfies at the same time the desire for an excessive simp- 
lification, which is also strikingly characteristic of the modern men- 
tality, so much so that this mentality could, without admitting any 


ironical intention, be qualified as ‘simplistic’ as much in its ‘scien- 
tific’ conceptions as in all its other manifestations. These ideas all 
hang together: the desire for simplification necessarily accompanies 
the tendency to reduce everything to the quantitative, and it rein- 
forces that tendency, for obviously nothing can be simpler than 
quantity; if a being or a thing could successfully be shorn of all its 
distinctive qualities, the ‘residue’ thus obtained would indeed be 
endowed with a maximum of simplicity: at the limit this extreme 
simplicity would be such as can only belong to pure quantity, being 
then the simplicity of the exactly similar ‘units’ that constitute 
numerical multiplicity— a point important enough to warrant 
more detailed consideration. 




We have seen that a desire for simplification can become illegiti- 
mate or pernicious and that it has become a distinctive feature of 
the modern mentality; this desire is so strong that certain philoso- 
phers have given way to it in the scientific domain, and have gone to 
the length of presenting it as a sort of logical ‘pseudo-principle’, in 
the form of a statement that ‘nature always takes the simplest 
course’. This is a perfectly gratuitous postulate, for there does not 
seem to be any reason why nature should work in that way and not 
in any other; many conditions other than simplicity can enter into 
its workings, and can outweigh simplicity to such an extent that 
nature seems, at least from our point of view, often to take a course 
that is extremely complicated. Indeed, this particular ‘pseudo-prin- 
ciple’ amounts to no more than a wish arising from a sort of ‘mental 
laziness’: it is desired that things should be as simple as possible, 
because if they really were so they would be so much the easier to 
understand; and all this is quite in accordance with the very modern 
and profane conception of a science that must be ‘within the reach 
of all’, but that is obviously only possible if it is so simple as to be 
positively ‘infantile’, and if all considerations of a superior or really 
profound order are rigorously excluded from it. 

Even shortly before the beginning of modern times properly so 
called there can be found something like an early indication of this 
state of mind in the scholastic adage: entia non sunt multiplicanda 
praeter necessitatem. 1 All is well if the application of this adage is 

1. This adage, like another according to which nihil est in intellectu quod non 
prius fuerit in sensu (and this is the first formulation of what was later to be called 


limited to purely hypothetical speculations, but then it becomes of 
no interest whatever, except within the domain of pure mathemat- 
ics, for there at least it is legitimate for anyone to confine himself to 
working on mental constructions without having to relate them to 
anything else; he can ‘simplify’ then as much as he likes, just because 
he is concerned only with quantity, for insofar as quantity is consid- 
ered in itself and by itself, its combinations are not comprised in the 
effective order of manifestation. On the other hand, as soon as mat- 
ters of fact need to be taken into account, it is quite another affair, 
and it becomes impossible not to recognize that ‘nature’ herself 
seems to go out of her way to multiply beings praeter necessitatem ; 
what kind of logical satisfaction can anyone experience in contem- 
plating, for instance, the multitude and the prodigious variety of 
the kinds of animals and plants that live around him? Surely this is a 
long way from the simplicity postulated by those philosophers who 
want to twist reality to suit the convenience of their own under- 
standing and the understanding of the ‘average’ of their like; and if 
such is the case in the corporeal world, in itself a very limited 
domain of existence, how much more must it be the case in the 
other worlds; must it not indeed then be indefinitely much more 
so ? 2 In order to cut short the discussion of this subject, it is only 
necessary to recall that, as has been explained elsewhere, everything 
that is possible is for that reason real in its own order and according 
to its own mode, and that since universal possibility is necessarily 
infinite everything that is other than a sheer impossibility has its 

‘sensualism’) is among those that can be assigned to no particular author, and it is 
likely that they belong only to the period of decadence of scholasticism, that is, to a 
time that is in fact, despite current ‘chronology’, not so much the end of the Middle 
Ages as the beginning of modern times— provided that it is right, as has been sug- 
gested elsewhere, to date that beginning as far back as the fourteenth century. 

2. In this connection the scholastic adage of the decadent period could be con- 
trasted with the conceptions of Saint Thomas Aquinas himself concerning the 
angelic state, ubi omne individuum est species infima. This means that the differ- 
ences between the angels are not analogous to the ‘individual differences’ of our 
world (the word individuum thus being not entirely correct here, as supra-individ- 
ual states are in question), but to ‘specific differences’; the true reason for this is 
that each angel represents as it were the expression of a divine attribute, as is shown 
clearly by the constitution of the names in the Hebrew angelology. 


place therein: what else, then, but this same desire for a miscon- 
ceived simplification drives philosophers, when evolving their ‘sys- 
tems’, always to try to set a limit to universal possibility in one way 
or another ? 3 

It is a particularly strange fact that the tendency to simplicity 
understood in this sense, together with the tendency to uniformity, 
which in a sense runs parallel to it, is taken by people whom it 
affects as a striving for ‘unification’; but it is really ‘unification’ 
upside down, like everything else that is directed toward the domain 
of pure quantity, or toward the lower and substantial pole of exist- 
ence; it is thus another example of that sort of caricature of unity 
that has already been considered from other points of view. If true 
unity is also to be described as ‘simple’, that word must be under- 
stood in quite a different sense, so that it conveys only the essential 
indivisibility of true unity, and so as to exclude the idea that unity is 
in any way ‘composite’, and this implies that it cannot rightly be 
conceived as made up of parts of any kind. A sort of parody of the 
indivisibility of unity may be found in the indivisibility that some 
philosophers and physicists attribute to their ‘atoms’, but they fail to 
see that it is not compatible with the nature of the corporeal, for a 
body is by definition extended, and extension is indefinitely divisi- 
ble, so that a body is of necessity always made up of parts, and it 
does not make any difference how small it is or may be supposed to 
be, so that the notion of indivisible corpuscles is self-contradictory; 
but a notion of that kind evidently fits in well with a search for sim- 
plicity carried to such lengths that it can no longer correspond to 
the lowest degree of reality. 

On the other hand, although the principial unity is absolutely 
indivisible, it can nevertheless be said to be of an extreme complex- 
ity, since it contains ‘eminently’ all that constitutes the essence or 
qualitative side of manifested beings, when considered from the 

3. That is why Leibnitz said that ‘every system is true in what it affirms and false 
in what it denies,’ and this means that it contains an amount of truth proportional 
to the amount of positive reality included in it, and an amount of error corre- 
sponding to the reality excluded; it is important to add that it is precisely the nega- 
tive and limitative side of a ‘system’ that constitutes it as such. 


point of view of a ‘descent’ into lower degrees. It is enough to go 
back to the explanation given above of the way in which the ‘extinc- 
tion of the ego’ ought to be understood in order to see that unity is 
that wherein all quality subsists, ‘transformed’ and in its fullness, 
and that distinction, freed from all ‘separative’ limitation, is indeed 
carried therein to its highest level. As soon as the domain of mani- 
fested existence is entered, limitation appears in the form of the 
particular conditions that determine each state or each mode of 
manifestation; in the course of a descent to ever lower levels of 
existence limitation becomes ever narrower, and the possibilities 
inherent in the nature of beings become more restricted in range, 
which amounts to saying that the essence of these beings is corre- 
spondingly simplified; this simplification continues progressively 
toward a lower level than that of existence itself, that is to say 
toward the domain of pure quantity, where it is finally brought to 
its maximum through the complete suppression of every qualitative 

Thus it can be seen that simplification follows strictly the 
descending course which, in current terms as inspired by Cartesian 
dualism, would be described as leading from ‘spirit’ toward ‘matter’: 
inadequate as these terms may be as substitutes for ‘essence’ and 
‘substance’, they can perhaps usefully be employed here for the sake 
of better understanding. It is therefore all the more extraordinary 
that anyone should attempt to apply this kind of simplification to 
things that belong to the ‘spiritual’ domain itself, or at least to as 
much of it as people are still able to conceive, for they go so far as to - 
extend it to religious conceptions as well as to philosophical or sci- 
entific conceptions. The most typical example is that of Protestant- 
ism, in which simplification takes the form both of an almost 
complete suppression of rites, together with an attribution of pre- 
dominance to morality over doctrine; and the doctrine itself 
becomes more and more simplified and diminished so that it is 
reduced to almost nothing, or at most to a few rudimentary formu- 
las that anyone can interpret in any way that suits him. Moreover, 
Protestantism in its many forms is the only religious production 
of the modern spirit, and it arose at a time when that spirit had not 
yet come to the point of rejecting all religion, but was on the way 


toward doing so by virtue of the anti-traditional tendencies which 
are inherent in it and which really make it what it is. At the end- 
point of this evolution’ (as it would be called today), religion is 
replaced by ‘religiosity’, that is to say by a vague sentimentality hav- 
ing no real significance; it is this that is acclaimed as ‘progress’, and 
it shows clearly how all normal relations are reversed in the modern 
mentality, for people try to see in it a ‘spiritualization’ of religion, as 
if the ‘spirit’ were a mere empty frame or an ‘ideal’ as nebulous as it 
is insignificant. This is what some of our contemporaries call a 
‘purified religion’, but it is so only insofar as it is emptied of all posi- 
tive content and has no longer any connection with any reality 

Another thing worth noting is that all the self-styled ‘reformers’ 
constantly advertise their claim to be returning to a ‘primitive sim- 
plicity’, which has certainly never existed except in their imagina- 
tions. This may sometimes only be a convenient way of hiding the 
true character of their innovations, but it may also very often be a 
delusion of which they themselves are the victims, for it is fre- 
quently very difficult to determine to what extent the apparent pro- 
moters of the anti-traditional spirit are really conscious of the part 
they are playing, for they could not play it at all unless they them- 
selves had a twisted mentality. Furthermore, it is difficult to see how 
the claim to primitive simplicity can be reconciled with the idea of 
‘progress’, of which they simultaneously claim to be agents; the con- 
tradiction is enough by itself to indicate that there is something 
really abnormal in all this. However that may be, and confining 
attention to the idea of ‘primitive simplicity’, there seems to be no 
reason whatever why things should always begin by being simple 
and continue to get more complex: on the contrary, considering 
that the germ of any being must necessarily contain the virtuality of 
all that the being will be in the future, so that all the possibilities to 
be developed in the course of its existence must be included in the 
germ from the start, the conclusion that the origin of all things must 
really be exceedingly complex is inevitable. This gives an exact pic- 
ture of the qualitative complexity of essence; the germ is small only 
in relation to quantity or substance, and by symbolically transpos- 
ing the idea of ‘size’ it can be deduced through inverse analogy that 


what is least in quantity must be greatest in quality . 4 In a similar 
way every tradition at its origin contains the entire doctrine, com- 
prehending in principle the totality of the developments and adap- 
tations that may legitimately proceed from it, together with the 
totality of the applications to which they may give rise in all 
domains; human interventions can do nothing but restrict and 
diminish it, if they do not denature it altogether, and the work of all 
‘reformers’ really consists in nothing more than that. 

Another peculiar thing is that modernists of all sorts (taking into 
account not those of the West alone, but also those of the East, for 
the latter are in any case merely ‘Westernized’), while they boast of 
doctrinal simplicity as representing ‘progress’ in the field of religion, 
often speak as if religion ought to have been made for idiots, or at 
least as if they supposed that the people they are speaking to must 
inevitably be idiots; do they really think that by asserting, rightly or 
wrongly, that a doctrine is simple they are suggesting to a man of 
the most moderate intelligence a valid reason for adopting it? This is 
in the end no more than a manifestation of the ‘democratic’ idea, in 
the light of which, as was said earlier, it is desired that science too 
shall be ‘within the reach of all’. It is scarcely necessary to remark 
that these same ‘modernists’ are always, as a necessary consequence 
of their attitude, the declared enemies of all esoterism, for it goes 
without saying that esoterism, which is by definition only the con- 
cern of an elect, cannot be simple, so that its negation appears as an 
obligatory first stage in all attempts at simplification. As for religion 
properly so called, or more generally the exterior part of any tradf 1 
tion, it must admittedly be such that everyone can understand 
something of it, according to the range of his capacity, and in that 
sense it is addressed to all; but this does not mean that it must there- 
fore be reduced to such a minimum that the most ignorant (this 
word not being used with reference to profane instruction, which 
has no importance here) or the least intelligent can grasp it: quite to 

4. The Gospel parable of the mustard seed may be recalled here, as also the sim- 
ilar texts from the Upanishads quoted elsewhere (see Man and His Becoming accord- 
ing to the Vedanta , chap. 3 ), and it may also be added in this connection that the 
Messiah himself is called ‘Seed’ in a number of biblical passages. 


the contrary, there must be in it something that is so to speak at the 
level of the possibilities of every individual, however exalted they 
may be, for thus alone can it furnish an appropriate ‘support’ to the 
interior aspect which, in any unmutilated tradition, is its necessary 
complement and belongs wholly to the initiatic order. But the mod- 
ernists, in specifically rejecting esoterism and initiation, thereby 
deny that religious doctrines contain in themselves any profound 
significance; thus it is that, in their pretension to ‘spiritualize’ reli- 
gion, they fall into its opposite, the narrowest and crudest ‘literal- 
ism’, in which the spirit is most completely lacking, thus affording a 
striking example of the fact that what Pascal said is often all too 
true— ‘He who tries to play the angel plays the beast.’ 

But that is not quite all that need be said about ‘primitive simplic- 
ity’, for there is at any rate one sense in which that expression can 
find a realistic application, and that is when the indistinction of 
‘chaos’ is in question, for ‘chaos’ is in a way ‘primitive’ since it is ‘in 
the beginning’; but it is not there by itself, since all manifestation 
necessarily presupposes simultaneously and correlatively both 
essence and substance, and ‘chaos’ only represents its substantial 
base. If that were what the partisans of ‘primitive simplicity’ meant 
there would be no need to disagree with them, for the tendency to 
simplification would reach its end-point in precisely that indistinc- 
tion, if it could be realized up to the limit of its ultimate conse- 
quences; but it is necessary to point out that this ultimate simplicity, 
being beneath manifestation and not in it, would in no way corre- 
spond to a true ‘return to origins’. In this connection and in order to 
resolve an apparent antinomy, a clear distinction must be made 
between the two points of view, which are respectively related to the 
two poles of existence: when it is said that the formation of the 
world started from ‘chaos’, then the point of view is solely the sub- 
stantial, and the beginning must then be regarded as timeless, for 
obviously time does not exist in ‘chaos’ but only in the ‘cosmos’, so 
that if the order of development of manifestation is being taken into 
account (that order being reflected in the domain of corporeal exist- 
ence, by virtue of the conditions which define that existence, as an 
order of temporal succession), the starting-point must not be the 
substantial pole, but the essential pole, the manifestation of which, 


in conformity with cyclic laws, takes the form of a continuous reces- 
sion, or of a descent toward the substantial pole. The ‘creation’, 
inasmuch as it is a resolution of ‘chaos’, is in a sense ‘instantaneous’ 
and is properly the biblical Fiat Lux; but it is the primordial Light 
itself that is really the origination of the ‘cosmos’, and this Light is 
the ‘pure spirit’ in which are the essences of all things; such being its 
beginning, the manifested world cannot possibly do otherwise than 
move in a downward direction, getting ever nearer and nearer to 




earlier chapters must now be elaborated. It is what may be called 
the tendency to ‘popularization’ (this word being another of those 
that are particularly significant as pointers to the nature of the 
modern mentality), in other words, the pretension to put every- 
thing ‘within the reach of all’, to which attention has already been 
drawn as being a consequence of ‘democratic’ conceptions, and that 
amounts in the end to a desire to bring all knowledge down to the 
level of the lowest intelligences. It would be only too easy to point 
out the multiple ineptitudes that result, generally speaking, from 
the ill-considered diffusion of an instruction that is claimed to be 
equally distributed to all, in identical form and by identical meth- 
ods; this can only end, as has already been said, in a sort of leveling 
down to the lowest— here as elsewhere quality being sacrificed to 
quantity. It is no less true to say that the profane instruction in 
question has nothing to do with any kind of knowledge in the true 
sense of the word, and that it contains nothing that is in the least 
degree profound; but, apart from its insignificance and its ineffectu- 
ality, what makes it really pernicious is above all the fact that it con- 
trives to be taken for what it is not, that it tends to deny everything 
that surpasses it, and so smothers all possibilities belonging to a 
higher domain; it even seems probable that it is contrived specially 
for that purpose, for modern ‘uniformization’ necessarily implies a 
hatred of all superiority. 

A still more surprising thing is that some people these days think 
that they can expound traditional doctrines by adopting profane 


instruction itself as a sort of model, without taking the least account 
of the nature of traditional doctrines and of the essential differences 
that exist between them and everything that is today called by the 
names of ‘science’ and ‘philosophy’, from which they are separated 
by a real abyss; in so doing they must of necessity distort these doc- 
trines completely by over-simplification and by only allowing the 
most superficial meaning to appear, for otherwise their pretensions 
must remain completely unjustified. In any case, by such means the 
modern spirit penetrates right into what is most opposed to it, rad- 
ically and by definition; and it is not difficult to appreciate the dis- 
solving effect of the results, though those who make themselves the 
instruments of this kind of penetration may not grasp their nature, 
and often act in good faith and with no clear intention. The deca- 
dence of religious doctrine in the West and the corresponding total 
loss of esoterism show well enough what may happen in the end if 
that way of looking at things were one day to become general even 
in the East as well; the danger is so serious that it must be clearly 
pointed out while there is yet time. 

Most incredible of all is the main argument put forward in justi- 
fication of their attitude by this new variety of ‘propagandist’. One 
of them recently wrote to the effect that, while it is true that restric- 
tions were formerly applied to the diffusion of certain sorts of 
knowledge, there is no longer any reason to observe them nowa- 
days, because (the phrase that follows must be quoted word for 
word so that no suspicion of exaggeration can arise) ‘the general 
level of culture has been raised, and the spirit of man has been made 
ready to receive the integral teaching.’ Here may be seen as clearly as 
possible the confusion between traditional teaching and profane 
instruction, the latter being described by the word ‘culture’, which 
has become one of its most frequent designations in our day; but 
culture’ is something that has not the remotest connection with 
traditional teaching or with the aptitude for receiving it, and what is 
more, since the so-called raising of the ‘general level’ has as its inev- 
itable counterpart the disappearance of the intellectual elect, it can 
he said that ‘culture’ represents the exact opposite of a preparation 
for traditional teaching. There is good reason to wonder how a 
Hindu (for it is a Hindu who was quoted above) can be completely 


ignorant of our present position in the Kali-Yuga , and can go so far 
as to say that ‘the time has come when the whole system of the 
Vedanta can be set forth to the public,’ for the most elementary 
knowledge of cyclic laws compels the conclusion that the time is less 
favorable than it ever was. It has never been possible to place the 
Vedanta ‘within the reach of the common man’, for whom inciden- 
tally it was never intended, and it is all the more certainly not possi- 
ble today, for it is obvious enough that the ‘common man’ has never 
been more totally uncomprehending. And finally, the truth is that 
everything that represents traditional knowledge of a really pro- 
found order, and therefore corresponds to what must be meant by 
‘integral teaching’ (for if those words have really any meaning, initi- 
atic teaching properly so called must be comprised in it), becomes 
more and more difficult of access, and becomes so everywhere; in 
face of the invasion of the modern and profane spirit it is clear that 
things could not be otherwise; how then can anyone be so far 
unaware of reality as to assert the very opposite, and as calmly as if 
he were enunciating the least contestable of truths? 

In the case quoted as an example for the purpose of ‘illustrating’ a 
particular mentality, the reasons given to justify the special interest 
that the propagation of the Vedantic teaching might have nowadays 
are no less extraordinary. ‘The development of social ideas and of 
political institutions’ is first put forward in this connection; but even 
if it really is a ‘development’ (and it would in any case be desirable to 
specify in what direction), this too has no more connection with the 
understanding of metaphysical doctrine than has the diffusion of 
profane instruction; it is enough to look at the extent to which polit- 
ical preoccupations, wherever they have been introduced into any 
Eastern country, are prejudicial to the knowledge of traditional 
truths, in order to conclude that it would be more justifiable to 
speak of an incompatibility, at least in practice, than of a possible 
concordance between these two ‘developments’. It is not easy to see 
what link ‘social life’, in the purely profane sense in which it is con- 
ceived today, could possibly h^ve with spirituality, to which, on the 
other hand, it brings nothing but obstacles: such links obviously 
existed when social life was integrated into a traditional civilization, 
but it is precisely the modern spirit that has destroyed them, or that 


tries to destroy them wherever they still persist; what then can be 
expected of a ‘development’ of which the most characteristic feature 
is that it works in direct opposition to all spirituality? 

The same author puts forward yet another reason: ‘Besides,’ says 
he, ‘it is the same for the Vedanta as for the other truths of science; 
there are no longer today any scientific secrets; science does not hes- 
itate to publish the most recent discoveries.’ True enough, profane 
science is only made for ‘the public at large’, and since it came into 
being such has been the only justification for its existence; all too 
obviously it is really nothing more than it appears to be, for it keeps 
itself entirely on the surface of things, and it can be said to do so, 
not on principle, but rather through a lack of principle; certainly 
there is nothing in it worth the trouble of keeping secret, or more 
accurately, worth reserving to the use of an elite, and anyhow an 
elite would have no use for anything of that sort. In any case, what 
kind of assimilation can anyone hope to establish between the so- 
called ‘truths’ and ‘most recent discoveries’ of profane science and 
the teachings of a doctrine such as the Vedanta or any other tradi- 
tional doctrine, even one that is more or less exterior? It is a case of 
the same confusion all the time, and it is permissible to ask to what 
extent anyone who perpetrates it with such insistence can have any 
understanding of the doctrine he wants to teach; there can really be 
no accommodation between the traditional spirit and the modern 
spirit, any concession made to the latter being necessarily at the T . 
expense of the former, since the modern spirit consists fundamen- 
tally in the direct negation of everything that constitutes the tradi- 
tional spirit. 

The truth is that the modern spirit implies in all who are affected 
by it in any degree a real hatred of what is secret, and of whatever 
seems to come more or less near to being secret, in any and every 
domain; and this affords an opportunity for a more precise explana- 
tion of the point. Strictly speaking it cannot even be said that ‘pop- 
ularization’ of the doctrines is dangerous, at least so long as it is 
only a question of their theoretical side; for it would be merely use- 
less, even if it were possible. But in fact truths of a certain order by 
their very nature resist all ‘popularization’: however clearly they are 
set out (it being understood that they are set out such as they are in 


their true significance and without subjecting them to any distor- 
tion) only those who are qualified to understand them will under- 
stand them, and for all others they will be as if they did not exist. 
This has nothing to do with ‘realization’ and the means appropriate 
to it, for in that field there is absolutely nothing that can have any 
effective value otherwise than from within a regular initiatic organi- 
zation; from a theoretical point of view reserve can only be justified 
by considerations of mere opportunity, and so by purely contingent 
reasons, which does not mean that such reasons need be negligible. 
In the end, the real secret, the only secret than can never be betrayed 
in any way, resides uniquely in the inexpressible, which is by the 
same token incommunicable, every truth of a transcendent order 
necessarily partaking of the inexpressible; and it is essentially in this 
fact that the profound significance of the initiatic secret really lies, 
for no kind of exterior secret can ever have any value except as an 
image or symbol of the initiatic secret, though it may occasionally 
also be not unprofitable as a ‘discipline’. But it must be understood 
that these are things of which the meaning and the range are com- 
pletely lost to the modern mentality, and incomprehension of them 
quite naturally engenders hostility; besides, the ordinary man 
always has an instinctive fear of what he does not understand, and 
fear engenders hatred only too easily, even when a mere direct 
denial of the uncomprehended truth is adopted as a means of 
escape from fear; indeed, some such denials are more like real 
screams of rage, for instance those of the self-styled ‘free-thinkers’ 
with regard to everything connected with religion. 

Thus the modern mentality is made up in such a way that it can- 
not bear any secret or even any reserve; since it does not know the 
reason for them, such things appear only as ‘privileges’ established 
for somebody’s profit; neither can it bear any kind of superiority. 
Anyone who undertook to explain that these so-called ‘privileges’ 
really have their foundation in the very nature of beings would be 
wasting his time, for that is just what ‘egalitarianism’ so obstinately 
denies. Not only does the modern mentality boast, without any 
justification, of the suppression of all ‘mystery’ by its science and 
philosophy— exclusively rational as it is, and brought ‘within the 


reach of all’— but the horror of ‘mystery’ goes so far in all domains 
as to extend also even into what is commonly called ‘ordinary life’. 
Nonetheless, a world in which everything had become ‘public’ 
would have a character nothing short of monstrous. The notion is 
still hypothetical, because we have not in spite of everything quite 
reached that point yet, and perhaps it never will be fully attained 
because it represents a ‘limit’; but it is beyond dispute that a result of 
that kind is being aimed at on all sides, and in that connection it 
may be observed that many who appear to be the adversaries of 
democracy are really doing nothing that does not serve further to 
emphasize its effects, if that be possible, simply because they are just 
as much penetrated by the modern spirit as are those whom they 
seek to oppose. In order to induce people to live as much as possible 
‘in public’, it is not enough that they should be assembled in the 
‘mass’ on every occasion and on any and every pretext, but they 
must in addition be lodged, not only in ‘hives’ as was suggested ear- 
lier, but literally in ‘glass hives’, and these must be arranged in such a 
way that they can only take their meals ‘in common’. People who are 
capable of submitting themselves to such an existence have really 
fallen to a ‘infra-human’ level, to the level, say, of insects like bees or 
ants; and in addition every device is brought into play for ‘organiz- 
ing’ them so that they may become no more different among them- 
selves than are the individuals of those same species of animals, and 
perhaps even less so. 

As it is not the purpose of this book to enter into the details of -*■ 
certain ‘anticipations’, which would be only too easy to formulate 
and too quickly overtaken by events, this subject will now be left. It 
must suffice to have indicated summarily both the state at which 
things have now arrived and the tendency they must inevitably con- 
tinue to follow, at least for a certain time yet. The hatred of secrecy 
is basically nothing but one of the forms of the hatred for anything 
that surpasses the level of the ‘average’, as well as for everything that 
holds aloof from the uniformity which it is sought to impose on 
everyone. Nevertheless, there is, within the modern world itself, a 
secret that is better kept than any other: it is that of the formidable 
enterprise of suggestion that has produced and that maintains the 


existing mentality, that has constituted it and as it were ‘manufac- 
tured’ it in such a way that it can only deny the existence and even 
the possibility of any such enterprise; and this is doubtless the best 
conceivable means, and a means of truly ‘diabolical’ cleverness, for 
ensuring that the secret shall never be discovered. 



It has just been said that the moderns claim to exclude all 
‘mystery’ from the world as they see it, in the name of a science and 
a philosophy characterized as ‘rational’, and it might well be said in 
addition that the more narrowly limited a conception becomes the 
more it is looked upon as strictly ‘rational’; moreover it is well 
enough known that, since the time of encyclopaedists of the eigh- 
teenth century, the most fanatical deniers of all supra-sensible real- 
ity have been particularly fond of invoking ‘reason’ on all occasions, 
and of proclaiming themselves to be ‘rationalists’. Whatever differ- 
ence there may be between this popular ‘rationalism’ and a real 
philosophic ‘rationalism’, it is at any rate only a difference of degree, 
both the one and the other corresponding fully to the same tenden- 
cies, which have become more and more exaggerated and at the 
same time more ‘popular’ throughout the course of modern times. 
‘Rationalism’ has so frequently been spoken of in the author’s ear- 
lier works, and its main characteristics have been so fully defined, 
that it might well suffice to refer the reader to those works ; 1 never- 
theless, it is so closely bound up with the very conception of a quan- 
titative science that a few more words here and now cannot well be 
dispensed with. 

Let it be recalled, then, that rationalism properly so called goes 
back to the time of Descartes, and it is worthy of note that it can 
thus be seen to be directly associated right from its beginnings with 
the idea of a ‘mechanistic’ physics; Protestantism had prepared the 

1. In particular to East and West and to The Crisis of the Modern World. 


way for this, by introducing into religion, together with ‘free 
enquiry’, a sort of rationalism, although the word itself was not then 
in existence, but was only invented when the same tendency asserted 
itself more explicitly in the domain of philosophy. Rationalism in all 
its forms is essentially defined by a belief in the supremacy of rea- 
son, proclaimed as a veritable ‘dogma’, and implying the denial of 
everything that is of a supra-individual order, notably of pure intel- 
lectual intuition, and this carries with it logically the exclusion of all 
true metaphysical knowledge. This same denial has also as a conse- 
quence, in another field, the rejection of all spiritual authority, 
which is necessarily derived from a ‘supra-human’ source; rational- 
ism and individualism are thus so closely linked together that they 
are usually confused, except in the case of certain recent philosophi- 
cal theories which though not rationalistic are nonetheless exclu- 
sively individualistic. It may be noted at this point how well ration- 
alism fits in with the modern tendency to simplification: the latter 
naturally always operates by the reduction of things to their most 
inferior elements, and so asserts itself chiefly by the suppression of 
the entire supra-individual domain, in anticipation of being able 
later on to bring everything that is left, that is to say everything in 
the individual order, down to the sensible or corporeal modality 
alone, and finally that modality itself to a mere aggregation of quan- 
titative determinations. It is easy to see how rigorously these steps 
are linked together, so as to constitute as it were so many necessary 
stages in a continuous ‘degradation’ of the conceptions that man 
forms of himself and of the world. 

There is yet another kind of simplification inherent in Cartesian 
rationalism, and it is manifested in the first place by the reduction of 
the whole nature of the spirit to ‘thought’ and that of the body to 
‘extension’; this reduction of bodies to extension is, as pointed out 
earlier, the very foundation of ‘mechanistic’ physics, and it can be 
regarded as the starting-point of a fully quantitative science . 2 But 

2. As for Descartes’ own conception of science, it should be noted that he claims 
that it is possible to reach the stage of having ‘clear and distinct’ ideas about every- 
thing, that is, ideas like those of mathematics} thus obtaining the sort of ‘evidence’ 
that can actually be obtained in mathematics alone. 


this is not all: in relation to ‘thought’ another mischievous simplifi- 
cation arises from the way in which Descartes actually conceives of 
reason, which he also calls ‘good sense’ (and if one thinks of the 
meaning currently assigned to that expression, it suggests some- 
thing situated at a singularly mediocre level); he declares too that 
reason is ‘the most widely shared thing in the world,’ which at once 
suggests some sort of ‘egalitarian’ idea, besides being quite obviously 
wrong; in all this he is only confusing completely reason ‘in act’ with 
‘rationality’, insofar as the latter is in itself a character specific to the 
human being as such . 3 Human nature is of course present in its 
entirety in every individual, but it is manifested there in very diverse 
ways, according to the inherent qualities belonging to each individ- 
ual; in each the inherent qualities are united with the specific nature 
so as to constitute the integrality of their essence; to think otherwise 
would be to think that human individuals are all alike and scarcely 
differ among themselves otherwise than solo numero. Yet from 
thinking of that kind all those notions about the ‘unity of the 
human spirit’ are directly derived: they are continually invoked to 
explain all sorts of things, some of which in no way belong to the 
‘psychological’ order, as for example the fact that the same tradi- 
tional symbols are met with at all times and in all places. Apart from 
the fact that these notions do not really concern the ‘spirit’ but sim- 
ply the ‘mind’, the alleged unity must be false, for true unity cannot 
belong to the individual domain, which alone is within the purview 
of people who talk in this way, as it is also, and more generally, of 
those who think it legitimate to speak of the ‘human spirit’, as if the 
spirit could be modified by any specific character. In any case, the 
community of nature of the individuals within the species can only 

3. In the classical definition of the human being as a ‘reasonable animal’, ‘ratio- 
nality’ represents the ‘specific difference’ by which man is distinguished from all 
other species in the animal kingdom; it is not applicable outside that kingdom, or in 
other words, is properly speaking only what the scholastics called a differentia ani- 
tnalisr, ‘rationality’ cannot therefore be spoken of in relation to beings belonging to 
Other states of existence, in particular to supra-individual states, those of the angels, 
for example; and this is quite in agreement with the fact that reason is a faculty of 
an exclusively individual order, and one that can in no way overstep the boundaries 
of the human domain. 


produce manifestations of a very generalized kind, and is quite 
inadequate to account for concordances in matters that are, on the 
contrary, of a very detailed precision; but how could these moderns 
be brought to understand that the fundamental unity of all the tra- 
ditions is explained solely by the fact that there is in them some- 
thing ‘supra-human’? On the other hand, to return to things that 
actually are purely human, Locke, the founder of modern psychol- 
ogy, was evidently inspired by the Cartesian conception when he 
thought fit to announce that, in order to know what the Greeks and 
Romans thought in days gone by (for his horizon did not extend 
beyond Western ‘classical’ antiquity) it is enough to find out what 
Englishmen and Frenchmen are thinking today, for ‘man is every- 
where and always the same.’ Nothing could possibly be more false, 
yet the psychologists have never got beyond that point, for, while 
they imagine that they are talking of man in general, the greater part 
of what they say really only applies to the modern European; does it 
not look as if they believe that the uniformity that is being imposed 
gradually on all human individuals has already been realized? It is 
true that, by reason of the efforts that are being made to that end, 
differences are becoming fewer and fewer, and therefore that the 
psychological hypothesis is less completely false today than it was in 
the time of Locke (always on condition that any attempt to apply it, 
as he did, to past times is carefully guarded against); but nonetheless 
the limit can never be reached, as was explained earlier, and for as 
long as the world endures there will always be irreducible differ- 
ences. Finally, to crown all this, how can a true knowledge of human 
nature possibly be gained by taking as typical of it an ‘ideal’ that in 
all strictness can only be described as ‘infra-human’? 

That much being established, it still remains to explain why 
rationalism is linked to the idea of an exclusively quantitative sci- 
ence, or more accurately, why the latter proceeds from the former; 
and in this connection it must be recognized that there is a consid- 
erable element of truth in the analysis which Bergson applies to 
what he wrongly calls ‘intelligence’, though it is really only reason, 
or more correctly a particular way of using reason based on the Car- 
tesian conception, there being no doubt that all the forms of mod- 
ern rationalism arose out of that conception. It may be remarked 


incidentally that the contentions of philosophers are often much 
more justifiable when they are arguing against other philosophers 
than when they pass on to expound their own views, and as each 
one generally sees fairly clearly the defects of the others, they more 
or less destroy one another mutually. Thus it is that Bergson, if one 
takes the trouble to rectify his mistakes in terminology, gives a good 
demonstration of the faults of rationalism (which, so far from being 
one with ‘intellectualism’, is on the contrary its negation) and of the 
insufficiencies of reason, but he is no less wrong in his own turn 
when, to fill the gap thus created, he probes the ‘infra-rational’ 
instead of lifting his gaze toward the ‘supra-rational’ (and this is 
why his philosophy is just as individualistic and ignores the supra- 
individual order just as completely as that of his rivals). And so, 
when he reproaches reason, to which it is only necessary here to 
restore its rightful name, for ‘artificially clipping reality,’ there is no 
need to adopt his special notion of ‘reality’, even purely hypotheti- 
cally and provisionally, in order fully to understand his meaning: he 
is evidently thinking in terms of the reduction of all things to ele- 
ments supposed to be homogenous or identical one with another, 
which amounts to nothing but a reduction to the quantitative, for 
elements of that kind can only be conceived from a quantitative 
point of view; and the idea of ‘clipping’ itself suggests fairly clearly 
the efforts that are made to introduce a discontinuity rightly 
belonging only to pure or numerical quantity, or broadly speaking 
to the tendency referred to earlier, namely, that of refusing to recog- 
nize as ‘scientific’ anything that cannot be ‘put into figures ’. 4 In the 
same way, when he says that reason is not at ease except when it 
applies itself to something ‘solid’, wherein it finds its own true 
domain, he seems to be aware of the inevitable tendency of reason, 
when reduced to itself alone, to ‘materialize’ everything in the ordi- 
nary sense of the word, that is, to consider in all things only their 
grossest modalities, because quality is then at a minimum in rela- 
tion to quantity; only he seems to be considering the end-point of 

4. It can be said in this connection that of all the meanings that were comprised 
in the Latin word ratio one alone has been retained, that of ‘calculation’, in the use 
to which reason is now put in the realm of ‘science’. 

94 the reign of quantity 

this tendency rather than its starting-point, which renders him lia- 
ble to the accusation of exaggeration, for there are evidently degrees 
of ‘materialization. Nevertheless, if one looks at the existing state of 
scientific conceptions (or rather, as will be seen later, at a state 
already on the way to being past) it is quite certain that they repre- 
sent as nearly as is possible the last or lowest degree of materializa- 
tion, the degree in which ‘solidity’ understood in its material sense 
has reached its maximum, and that in itself is a particularly charac- 
teristic mark of the period at which we have arrived. There is evi- 
dently no need to suppose that Bergson himself understood these 
matters in as clear a light as is shed by the above ‘translation’ of his 
language, indeed it seems very unlikely that he did, considering the 
multiple confusions he is constantly perpetrating; but it is nonethe- 
less true that these views were in fact suggested to him by his esti- 
mation of what present-day science is, and on that account the 
testimony of a man who is incontestably a representative of the 
modern spirit cannot be regarded as negligible. As for what his own 
theories amount to exactly, their significance will be found in 
another part of this study, and all that can be said about them for 
the moment is that they correspond to a different aspect and to 
some extent to a different stage of the deviation which, taken as a 
whole, itself constitutes the modern world. 

To summarize the foregoing, this much can be said: rationalism, 
being the denial of every principle superior to reason, brings with it 
as a ‘practical’ consequence the exclusive use of reason, but of rea- 
son blinded, so to speak, by the very fact that it has been isolated 
from the pure and transcendent intellect, of which, normally and 
legitimately, it can only reflect the light in the individual domain. As 
soon as it has lost all effective communication with the supra-indi- 
vidual intellect, reason cannot but tend more and more toward the 
lowest level, toward the inferior pole of existence, plunging ever 
more deeply into ‘materiality’; as this tendency grows, it gradually 
loses hold of the very idea of truth, and arrives at the point of seek- 
ing no goal other than that of making things as easy as possible for 
its own limited comprehension, and in this it finds an immediate 
satisfaction in the very fact thafits own downward tendency leads it 


in the direction of the simplification and uniformization of all 
things; it submits all the more readily and speedily to this tendency 
because the results of this submission conform to its desires, and its 
ever more rapid descent cannot fail to lead at last to what has been 
called the ‘reign of quantity’. 




The earliest product of rationalism in the so-called ‘scien- 
tific’ field was Cartesian mechanism; materialism was not due to 
appear until later, for as explained elsewhere, the word and the 
thing itself are not actually met with earlier than the eighteenth cen- 
tury; besides, whatever may have been the intentions of Descartes 
himself (and it is in fact possible, by pursuing to the end the logical 
consequences of his ideas, to extract from them theories that are 
mutually very contradictory), there is nonetheless a direct filiation 
between mechanism and materialism. In this connection it is useful 
to recall that, although the ancient atomistic conceptions such as 
those of Democritus and especially of Epicurus can be qualified as 
mechanistic, these two being the only ‘precursors’ from the ancient 
world whom the moderns can with any justification claim as their 
own in this field, their conceptions are often wrongly looked upon 
as the earliest form of materialism: for materialism implies above all 
the modern physicist’s notion of ‘matter’, and at that time this 
notion was still a long way from having come to birth. The truth is 
that materialism merely represents one of the two halves of Carte- 
sian dualism, the half to which its author had applied the mechanis- 
tic conception; it was sufficient thereafter to ignore or to deny the 
remaining half, or what comes to the same thing, to claim to bring 
the whole of reality into the first half, in order to arrive quite natu- 
rally at materialism. 

Leibnitz, in opposition to Descartes and his disciples, was very 
successful in demonstrating the insufficiency of a mechanistic phys- 
ics, which cannot, owing to its very nature, take account of anything 


but the outward appearance of things and is incapable of affording 
the smallest explanation of their true essence; thus mechanism can 
be said to have a value that is purely ‘representative’ and in no way 
explanatory; and is not the whole of modern science really in exactly 
the same position? This is seen to be the case even when an example 
as simple as that of movement is taken, though movement is ordi- 
narily thought of as being more completely explicable than anything 
else in purely mechanical terms; but any such explanation, says 
Leibnitz, is only valid so long as movement is not regarded as 
involving anything other than a change of situation. From this lim- 
ited point of view it is a matter of indifference, when the relative 
positions of two bodies change, whether the first is regarded as mov- 
ing in relation to the second, or the second in relation to the first, for 
there is a complete reciprocity between the two; but it is quite 
another matter when the reason for the movement is taken into 
account, for if the reason is found to be in one of the two bodies, 
that one alone must be regarded as moving, while the other plays a 
purely passive part in the change that has taken place; but any idea 
of this kind completely eludes conceptions of a mechanistic or 
quantitative order. Mechanism is limited to giving a simple descrip- 
tion of movement, such as it is in its outward appearance, but is 
powerless to grasp the reason for it and so to express its essential or 
qualitative aspect, which alone can afford a real explanation. These 
considerations apply with even greater force in the case of things 
that may be more complex in character than movement, and where - 
quality may be more predominant over quantity, and that is why a 
science constituted mechanistically cannot actually be of any value 
in terms of effective knowledge, even within the confines of the rela- 
tive and limited domain that encloses it. 

The conception which Descartes tried to apply to all the phenom- 
ena of the corporeal world is however no less conspicuously insuffi- 
cient, in that he reduced the whole nature of bodies to extension, 
and in addition he considered extension only from a purely quanti- 
tative point of view; and even at that time, just like the most recent 
mechanists and the materialists, he made no difference in this con- 
nection between so-called ‘inorganic’ bodies and living beings. Liv- 
ing beings are specified, and not organized bodies only, because the 


being itself is in effect reduced by him to the body alone, in accor- 
dance with the all too famous Cartesian theory of ‘animal- 
machines’, and this is really one of the most astonishing absurdities 
ever engendered by the systematic spirit. Not until he comes to con- 
sider human beings does Descartes feel obliged to point out in his 
physics that what he has in view is only ‘man’s body’; but what is this 
concession really worth, seeing that everything that takes place in 
this body would, by hypothesis, be exactly the same if the ‘spirit’ 
were absent? And so, as an inescapable result of dualism, the human 
being is as it were cut into two parts that do not become reunited 
and cannot form a real composite whole, since they cannot enter 
into mutual communication by any means, being supposed to be 
absolutely heterogeneous, so much so that any effective action by 
one on the other would be rendered impossible. To complete the 
picture, an attempt was made to explain mechanically all the phe- 
nomena that take place in animals, including those manifestations 
that are most obviously psychic in character; it is reasonable to ask 
why the same explanations should not apply to man, and whether it 
may not be permissible to ignore the other side of dualism as con- 
tributing nothing to the explanation of things. From this stage to 
the stage of looking at that other side as a useless complication and 
in practice treating it as non-existent, and thence to the point of 
denying it purely and simply, is no long step, especially for men 
whose attention is constantly turned toward the domain of percep- 
tion, as is the case with modern Westerners: thus it is that Descartes’ 
mechanistic physics could not but pave the way for materialism. 

The reduction to the quantitative had already taken place theo- 
retically in Descartes’ time as far as everything that properly belongs 
to the corporeal order was concerned, in the sense that the actual 
constitution of Cartesian physics implied the possibility of such a 
reduction; it remained to extend the same conception to cover the 
whole of reality as it was then conceived, but reality had by that 
time become restricted to the domain of individual existence alone, 
in accordance with the postulates of rationalism. Taking dualism as 
point of departure, the reduction in question could not fail to 
appear as a reduction from ‘spirit’ to ‘matter’, taking the form of a 
relegation into the latter category alone of everything that Descartes 


had included in either, so as to be able to bring all things indiffer- 
ently down to quantity. And so, after having previously relegated 
the essential aspect of things to a position ‘above the clouds’ as it 
were, this last step served to suppress it completely, so that thereaf- 
ter nothing needed to be taken into account but the substantial 
aspect of things, for ‘spirit’ and ‘matter’ respectively correspond to 
these two aspects, though they only suggest a much diminished and 
distorted picture of them. Descartes had brought half the world as 
he conceived it into the quantitative domain, and it was doubtless in 
his eyes the more important half, for in his secret thoughts, what- 
ever may appear on the surface, he wanted above all to be a physi- 
cist; materialism in its turn claimed to bring the whole world into 
its own domain; there was then nothing more to do but to strive to 
bring the reduction to quantity into effect by means of theories pro- 
gressively better adapted to that end, and that was the task to which 
modern science was destined to apply itself, even when it made no 
open declaration of materialism. 

Besides avowed and formal materialism, there is also what may 
be called a factual materialism, the influence of which extends much 
further afield, for many people who regard themselves as being by 
no means materialists nonetheless behave as such in practice in all 
circumstances. There is in fact a relationship between these two 
materialisms rather like that referred to earlier between philosophi- 
cal rationalism and popular rationalism, except that the merely fac- 
tual materialist does not generally parade that quality and would 
often protest if it were attributed to him, whereas the popular ratio- 
nalist, even when he is philosophically the most ignorant of men, is 
all the more anxious to proclaim himself a rationalist, while at the 
same time he proudly adorns himself with the title of ‘free-thinker’, 
all unconscious of irony, for all the time he is but the slave of all the 
current prejudices of his period. However that may be, just as popu- 
lar rationalism is a product of the diffusion of philosophic rational- 
ism among the ‘public at large’, with all the inevitable consequences 
of its being put ‘within the reach of all’, so materialism properly so 
called is the starting-point of factual materialism, in the sense that 
the former has made a diffusion of its characteristic state of mind 
generally possible and has effectively contributed to its formation; 


but it must not be forgotten that all these separate happenings can 
always be fully explained by the development of the same tenden- 
cies, the tendencies that constitute the very foundation of the mod- 
ern spirit. It is obvious that a scientist, in the modern sense of the 
word, even if he does not profess materialism, will be influenced by 
it to the extent that all his special training is oriented in that direc- 
tion; and even if, as sometimes happens, this scientist believes him- 
self to be not without the ‘religious spirit’, he will find the means to 
separate his religion from his scientific activity so completely that 
his work will in no way be distinguishable from that of the most 
overt materialist, and so he will play just as important a part as the 
latter in the ‘progressive’ building up of a science as exclusively 
quantitative and as grossly materialistic as it is possible to imagine. 
In this sort of way does anti-traditional action succeed in using to 
its own profit even those who ought to be its adversaries, and who 
might be so if the deviation of the modern mentality had not so 
shaped beings that they are full of contradictions yet incapable even 
of becoming aware of the fact. Here again the tendency to unifor- 
mity finds its realization, since in practice all men end by thinking 
and acting in the same way, and the things in respect of which they 
nevertheless still differ have no more than a minimum of influence, 
and are not translated into any reality in the outer world. Thus, in 
such a world, and with the rarest exceptions, a man who professes 
himself a Christian does not fail to behave in practice as if there 
were no reality whatever outside corporeal existence alone, and a 
priest who does ‘a little science’ does not differ perceptibly from a 
university materialist; when things have reached this stage, have 
they much further to go before the lowest point of the ‘descent’ is 
reached at last? 



OF ‘ordinary life’ 

The materialistic attitude, whether it be a question of ex- 
plicit and formal materialism or of a simple ‘practical’ materialism, 
necessarily imposes on the whole ‘psycho-physiological’ constitu- 
tion of the human being a real and very important modification. 
This is easily understood, and in fact it is only necessary to look 
round in order to conclude that modern man has become quite 
impermeable to any influences other than such as impinge on his 
senses; not only have his faculties of comprehension become more 
and more limited, but also the field of his perception has become 
correspondingly restricted. The result is a sort of reinforcement of 
the profane point of view, for this point of view was first born of a 
defect of comprehension, and thus of a limitation, and this limita- T . 
tion as it becomes accentuated and extends to all domains, itself 
seems to justify the point of view, at least in the eyes of those who 
are affected by it. Indeed, what reason can they have thereafter for 
admitting the existence of something that they can neither perceive 
nor conceive, that is to say of everything that could show them the 
insufficiency and the falsity of the profane point of view itself? 

Thus arises the idea of what is commonly called ‘ordinary life’ or 
everyday life’; this is in fact understood to mean above all a life in 
which nothing that is not purely human can intervene in any way, 
owing to the elimination from it of any sacred, ritual, or symbolical 
character (it matters little whether this character be thought of as 
specifically religious or as conforming to some other traditional 
modality, because the relevant point in all cases is the effective 


action of ‘spiritual influences’), the very words ‘ordinary’ or ‘every- 
day’ moreover implying that everything that surpasses conceptions 
of that order is, even when it has not yet been expressly denied, at 
least relegated to an ‘extra-ordinary’ domain, regarded as excep- 
tional, strange, and unaccustomed. This is strictly speaking a rever- 
sal of the normal order as represented by integrally traditional 
civilizations, in which the profane point of view does not exist in 
any way, and the reversal can only logically end in an ignorance or a 
complete denial of the ‘supra-human’. Moreover some people go so 
far as to make a similar use, with the same meaning, of the expres- 
sion ‘real life’, and this usage has a profoundly and singularly ironi- 
cal character, for the truth is that the thing so named is on the 
contrary nothing but the worst of illusions; this does not mean that 
everything it contains is actually devoid of all reality, although such 
reality as it has, which is broadly speaking that of the sensible order, 
is at the lowest level of all, there being below it only such things as 
are definitely beneath the level of all manifested existence. It is how- 
ever the way in which things are conceived that is so wholly false, 
because it separates them from every superior principle, and so 
denies them precisely that which makes all their reality; that is why, 
in all strictness, no such thing as a profane domain really exists, but 
only a profane point of view, which becomes more and more inva- 
sive until in the end it comprehends human existence in its entirety. 

This makes it understandable how, in the conception of ‘ordinary 
life’, one stage succeeds another almost insensibly, degeneration 
becoming progressively more marked all the time. At first it is 
allowed that some things are not accessible to any traditional influ- 
ence, then those things themselves come to be looked on as normal; 
from that point it is all too easy to arrive at considering them as the 
only ‘real’ things, which amounts to setting aside as ‘unreal’ all that 
is ‘supra-human’; and later on, when the human domain comes to 
be conceived in a more and more narrowly limited way, until it is 
finally reduced to the corporeal modality alone, everything that 
belongs to the supra-sensible order is set aside as unreal. It is 
enough to notice how our contemporaries constantly make use of 
the word ‘real’ as a synonym oT ‘sensible’ without even thinking 
about it, in order at once to become aware that they have indeed 


fully reached the final stage, and that this way of looking at things 
has become so completely incorporated into their very nature as to 
have become so to speak almost instinctive with them. Modern phi- 
losophy, which is more than anything else merely a ‘systematized’ 
expression of the common mentality, subsequently reacts on the lat- 
ter to a certain extent, and the two have pursued parallel courses; 
that of philosophy began with the Cartesian eulogy of ‘good sense’ 
alluded to earlier, and which is very revealing in this connection, for 
‘ordinary life’ surely is first and foremost the domain of this so- 
called ‘good sense’, also called ‘common sense’, and is no less limited 
than it and in the same way; next, through rationalism, which is 
fundamentally only a more specially philosophical aspect of 
‘humanism’, that is to say, of the reduction of everything to an 
exclusively human point of view, materialism or positivism are 
gradually attained: whether one chooses, as in materialism, 
expressly to deny everything that is beyond the sensible world, or 
whether one is content, as in positivism (which for that reason likes 
also to call itself ‘agnosticism’, making an honourable title for itself 
out of what is really only the avowal of an incurable ignorance), to 
refuse to be concerned with anything of the kind and to declare it 
‘inaccessible’ or ‘unknowable’, the result is exactly the same in either 
case, and it is precisely the result of which a description has just 
been given. 

It may be repeated here that in most cases there is naturally in 
question only something that can be called a ‘practical’ materialism 
or positivism, not dependent on any philosophical theory, for 
philosophical theory is now and always will be quite foreign to the 
majority; but this makes matters all the more serious, not only 
because the materialistic state of mind thereby obtains an incompa- 
rably wider diffusion, but also because it is all the more irremediable 
the less it is deliberate and clearly conscious, for when it becomes so 
it has then really penetrated and as it were impregnated the whole 
nature of the individual. This is sufficiently shown by what has 
already been said about factual materialism and about the way in 
which people who nevertheless fancy themselves ‘religious’ accom- 
modate themselves thereto; the same example also shows that phi- 
losophy properly so called has not the conclusive importance that 

104 THE REIGN of quantity 

some people would like to assign to it, or at least that its chief 
importance is as ‘representative’ of a certain mentality rather than as 
acting effectively and directly upon it: in any case, how could a par- 
ticular philosophical conception meet with the smallest success if it 
did not fit in with some of the predominant tendencies of the period 
in which it is formulated? This does not mean that philosophers do 
not play their part just like anyone else in the modern deviation, for 
that would certainly be an overstatement; it only means that their 
part is in fact more restricted than one would be tempted to suppose 
at first sight, and is rather different from what it may seem to be out- 
wardly. In quite a general way moreover whatever is most apparent 
is always, in accordance with the laws which control all manifesta- 
tion, a consequence rather than a cause, an end-point rather than a 
starting-point , 1 and in any case it is no use searching in the apparent 
for whatever may be the really effective agent in an order more pro- 
found, whether the action in question be exercised in a normal and 
legitimate direction, or in a directly contrary direction, as in the case 
now under consideration. 

Mechanism and materialism themselves have only been able to 
acquire a widespread influence by extending from the philosophical 
into the scientific domain: anything related to the latter, or anything 
that gives the impression, rightly or wrongly, of being endowed 
with a ‘scientific’ character, doubtless exercises, for various reasons, 
much more influence than do philosophical theories on the com- 
mon mentality, in which there is always at least an implicit belief in 
the truth of science, for the hypothetical character of science passes 
quite unperceived, whereas everything classed as ‘philosophy’ leaves 
it more or less indifferent; the existence of practical and utilitarian 
applications in the one case and their absence in the other is no 
doubt not entirely unconnected with this. This recalls once more 
the idea of ‘ordinary life’, in which an effective part is played by a 

1. It could also legitimately be sakfto be a ‘fruit’ rather than a ‘seed’; the fact 
that the fruit itself contains new seeds indicates that the consequence can in its turn 
play the part of cause at another level, in conformity with the cyclical character of 
manifestation; but for that to happen it must again pass in one way or another 
from the ‘apparent’ to the ‘hidden’. 


fairly strong dose of pragmatism’; and that statement is of course 
made quite independently of the fact that some of our contempo- 
■ raries have tried to build up ‘pragmatism’ into a philosophical sys- 
I tern: this only became possible by reason of the utilitarian twist that 
I is inherent in the modern and profane mentality in general, and 
7 because, at the present stage of intellectual decadence, the very 
notion of truth has come to be completely lost to sight, so much so 
7 that the notion of utility or of convenience has ended by replacing it 
f. entirely. However that may be, as soon as it is agreed that ‘reality’ 
consists exclusively in what presents itself to the senses, it is quite 
natural that the value attributed to any particular thing should to 
some extent be measured by its capacity to produce effects in the 
sensible order; it is evident moreover that ‘science’, considered in 
the modern fashion as being essentially grouped with industry, if 
not more or less completely one with it, must for that reason 
occupy the first rank, science thus finding itself mingled as closely as 
possible with ordinary life, in which it becomes one of the principal 
factors; and in return, the hypotheses on which it claims to be 
founded, however gratuitous and unjustified they may be, must 
themselves benefit by this privileged situation in the eyes of the peo- 
ple. It goes without saying that the practical applications really 
depend in no way on the truth of the hypotheses, and it may be 
wondered what would become of a science of this sort— seeing that 
as knowledge in the true sense it is nothing— if it were divorced 
from the applications to which it gives rise; but it is a fact that sci- 
ence such as it is ‘succeeds’, and for the instinctively utilitarian spirit 
of the modern public ‘results’ or ‘success’ become a sort of ‘criterion 
of truth’, if indeed the word ‘truth’ can be used in this connection 
and still retain some sort of meaning. 

Besides, whatever point of view is being considered, whether 
philosophical, scientific, or simply ‘practical’, it is evident that in the 
end all such points of view only represent so many different aspects 
of one and the same tendency, and also that this tendency, like all 
those that have an equal right to be regarded as constituting the 
modern spirit, can certainly not have developed spontaneously. 
Advantage has already been taken of many other opportunities to 
explain this last point, but since this is a matter that cannot be too 


strongly insisted on, it will be necessary to return later on to a more 
precise exposition of the place occupied by materialism in the broad 
‘plan whereby the modern deviation is brought about. Clearly the 
materialists themselves are more incapable than anyone else of 
becoming aware of these things or even of conceiving them as possi- 
ble, blinded as they are by their preconceived ideas, which close for 
them every outlet from the narrow domain in which they are accus- 
tomed to move; doubtless they would be as astonished to hear of 
them as they would be to know that men have existed and still exist 
for whom what they call ‘ordinary life’ would be quite the most 
extraordinary thing imaginable, because it corresponds to nothing 
that occurs at all in their existence. Nevertheless such is the case, 
and furthermore, these are the men who must be regarded as truly 
‘normal’, while the materialists, with all their boasted ‘good sense’ 
and all the ‘progress’ of which they proudly consider themselves to 
be the most finished products and the most ‘advanced’ representa- 
tives, are really only beings in whom certain faculties have become 
atrophied to the extent of being completely abolished. It is inciden- 
tally only under such conditions that the sensible world can appear 
to them as a ‘closed system’, in the interior of which they feel them- 
selves to be in perfect security: it remains to be shown how this illu- 
sion can, in a certain sense and in a certain measure, be ‘realized’ 
through the existence of materialism itself; but it will also appear 
later that this nevertheless represents as it were an eminently unsta- 
ble state of equilibrium, and that the world has even now reached a 
point where the security of ‘ordinary life’, on which the whole out- 
ward organization of the modern world has rested up till now, runs 
serious risks of being troubled by unanticipated ‘interferences’. 

1 6 


This exposition has now arrived at a point at which it may be 
useful to branch off from the theme to some extent, at least appar- 
ently, in order to give, perhaps rather summarily, a few indications 
on a question that may seem to be related only to a very specialized 
field. Nonetheless, it will afford a striking example of the results of 
the conception of ‘ordinary life’ and at the same time an excellent 
‘illustration’ of how that conception is bound up with the exclu- 
sively quantitative point of view, so that, particularly in this last con- 
nection, it is really very directly relevant to our main theme. The 
question is that of money, and if the merely ‘economic’ point of view 
as it is understood today is not departed from, it certainly seems that 
money is something that appertains as completely as possible to the 
‘reign of quantity’. This indeed is the reason why it plays so predom- 
inant a part in modern society, as is only too obvious, a point on 
which it would clearly be superfluous to insist; but the truth is that 
the ‘economic’ point of view itself, and the exclusively quantitative 
conception of money that is inherent in it, are but the products of a 
degeneration which is on the whole fairly recent, and that money 
possessed at its origin, and retained for a long time, quite a different 
character and a truly qualitative value, remarkable as this may 
appear to the majority of our contemporaries. 

It may easily be observed, provided only that one has ‘eyes to see’, 
that the ancient coins are literally covered with traditional symbols, 
often chosen from among those that carry some particularly pro- 
found meaning; thus for instance it has been observed that among 
the Celts the symbols figured on the coins can only be explained if 
they are related to the doctrinal knowledge that belonged to the 


Druids alone, which implies a direct intervention of the Druids in 
the monetary domain. There is not the least doubt that the truth in 
this matter is the same for the other peoples of antiquity as for the 
Celts, of course after taking account of the modalities peculiar to 
their respective traditional organizations. This is fully in agreement 
with the fact of the inexistence of the profane point of view in 
strictly traditional civilizations: money itself, where it existed at all, 
could not be the profane thing it came to be later; and if it had been 
so, how could the intervention of a spiritual authority, which would 
then obviously have no concern with money, be explained, and how 
would it be possible to understand that many traditions speak of 
coinage as of something really charged with a ‘spiritual influence’, 
the action of which could not become effective except by means of 
the symbols that constituted its normal ‘support’? It may be added 
that right up to very recent times it was still possible to find a last 
vestige of this notion in devices of a religious character, which cer- 
tainly retained no real symbolical value, but were at least something 
like a recollection of the traditional idea, more or less uncompre- 
hended thenceforth; but after having been relegated in certain 
countries to a place round the rim of coins, in the end these devices 
disappeared completely; indeed there was no longer any reason for 
them as soon as the coinage represented nothing more than a 
‘material’ and quantitative token. 

The control of money by the spiritual authority, in whatever 
form it may have been exercised, is by no means exclusively con- 
fined to antiquity, for without going outside the Western world, 
there is much to indicate that it must have been perpetuated until 
toward the end of the Middle Ages, that is, for as long as the West- 
ern world had a traditional civilization. It is impossible to explain in 
any other way the fact that certain sovereigns were accused at this 
time of having ‘debased the coinage’; since their contemporaries 
regarded this as a crime on their part, it must be concluded that the 
sovereigns had not the free disposal of the standard of the coinage, 
and that, in changing it on their'own initiative, they overstepped the 
recognized rights of the temporal power . 1 If that were not the case, 

1. See Spiritual Authority and Temporal Power, where the case of Philip the Fair 
is specially referred to, and where it was suggested that there may be a fairly close 
connection between the destruction of the Order of Templars and the alteration of 


such an accusation would have been quite without meaning; the 
standard of the coinage would only then have had an importance 
based on convention, and it would not have mattered, broadly 
speaking, if it had been made of any sort of metal, or of various 
sorts, or even been replaced by mere paper as it is for the most part 
today, for this would have been no hindrance to the continuance of 
exactly the same ‘material’ employment of it. An element of another 
order must therefore have been involved, and it must have been of a 
superior order, for unless that had been the case the alteration could 
not have assumed a character so exceptionally serious as to end in 
compromising the very stability of the royal power; but the royal 
power by acting in this way usurped the prerogatives of the spiritual 
authority, which is without any doubt the one authentic source of 
all legitimacy. In this way the facts, which profane historians seem 
scarcely to understand, conspire once more to indicate very clearly 
that the question of money had in the Middle Ages as well as in 
antiquity aspects quite unknown to the moderns. 

What has happened in this case is but an example of a much 
more general movement, affecting all activities in every department 
of human existence; all have been gradually divested of any ‘sacred’ 
or traditional character, and thereby that existence itself in its 
entirety has become completely profane and is now at last reduced 
to the third-rate mediocrity of ‘ordinary life’ as it is found today. At 
the same time, the example of money clearly shows that this 
‘profanization’— if any such neologism be allowable— comes about 
chiefly by the reduction of things to their quantitative aspect alone; 
indeed, nobody is able any longer to conceive that money can repre- 
sent anything other than a simple quantity; but, although the case 
of money is particularly apt in this connection because it has been 
as it were carried to the extreme of exaggeration, it is very far from 
being the only case in which a reduction to the quantitative can be 
seen as contributing to the confining of existence within the limited 

the coinage, something easily understood if it is recognized as at least very plausible 
that this Order then had the function, among others, of exercising spiritual control 
this field; the matter need not be pursued further here, but it may be recalled 
that the beginning of the modern deviation properly so called has been assigned 
precisely to this moment. 


horizon of the profane point of view. This is sufficiently under- 
standable after what has been said of the peculiarly quantitative 
character of modern industry: by continuously surrounding man 
with the products of that industry, and so to speak never letting him 
see anything else (except, as in museums for example, in the guise 
of mere ‘curiosities’ having no relation with the ‘real’ circumstances 
of his life and consequently no effective influence on it), he is really 
compelled to shut himself up inside the narrow circle of ‘ordinary 
life’, as in a prison without escape. In a traditional civilization, on 
the contrary, each object was at the same time as perfectly fitted as 
possible to the use for which it was immediately destined and also 
made so that it could at any moment, and owing to the very fact 
that real use was being made of it (instead of its being treated more 
or less as a dead thing as the moderns do with everything that they 
consider to be a ‘work of art’), serve as a ‘support’ for meditation, 
linking the individual with something other than the mere corpo- 
real modality, thus helping everyone to elevate himself to a superior 
state according to the measure of his capacities : 2 what an abyss 
there is between these two conceptions of human existence! 

The qualitative degeneration of all things is closely linked to that 
of money, as is shown by the fact that nowadays the ‘worth’ of an 
object is ordinarily ‘estimated’ only in terms of its price, considered 
simply as a ‘figure’, a ‘sum’, or a numerical quantity of money; in 
fact, with most of our contemporaries, every judgment brought to 
bear on an object is nearly always based exclusively on what it costs. 
The word ‘estimate’ has been emphasized because it has in itself a 
double meaning, qualitative and quantitative; today the first mean- 
ing has been lost to sight, or what amounts to the same thing, 
means have been found to equate it to the second, and thus it comes 
about that not only is the ‘worth’ of an object ‘estimated’ according 
to its price, but the ‘worth’ of a man is ‘estimated’ according to his 
wealth . 3 The same thing has naturally happened to the word ‘value’, 

2. Numerous studies by A. K. Coomaraswamy may be consulted on this subject, 
which he has developed profusely and ‘illustrated’ in all its aspects with all neces- 
sary explanations. 

3. The Americans have gone so far in this direction that they commonly say that 
a man is ‘worth’ so much, intending to convey in that way the figure to which his 


and it may be noticed in passing that on this is based a curious 
abuse of the word by certain recent philosophers, who have even 
gone so far as to invent as a description of their theories the expres- 
sion ‘philosophy of values’; underlying their thoughts is the idea 
that everything, to whatever order it may belong, is capable of being 
conceived quantitatively and expressed numerically; and ‘moralism’, 
which is their other predominant preoccupation, thus comes to be 
closely associated with the quantitative point of view . 4 These exam- 
ples show too that there has been a real degeneration of language, 
inevitably accompanying or following that of everything else; 
indeed, in a world in which every attempt is made to reduce all 
things to quantity it is evidently necessary to use a language that 
itself evokes nothing but purely quantitative ideas. 

To return more particularly to the question of money, one more 
point remains to be dealt with, for a phenomenon has appeared in 
this field which is well worthy of note, and it is this: since money lost 
all guarantee of a superior order, it has seen its own actual quantita- 
tive value, or what is called in the jargon of the economists its ‘pur- 
chasing power’, becoming ceaselessly less and less, so that it can be 
imagined that, when it arrives at a limit that is getting ever nearer, it 
will have lost every justification for its existence, even all merely 
‘practical’ or ‘material’ justification, and that it will disappear of 
itself, so to speak, from human existence. It will be agreed that here 
affairs turn back on themselves in a curious way, but the preceding 
explanations will make the idea quite easy to understand: for since 
pure quantity is by its nature beneath all existence, when the trend 
toward it is pressed to its extreme limit, as in the case of money 
(more striking than any other because the limit has nearly been 
reached), the end can only be a real dissolution. The case of money 
alone already shows clearly enough that, as was said above, the secu- 
rity of ‘ordinary life’ is in reality a highly precarious thing, and it will 
be shown later that it is precarious in many other respects as well; 

fortune has risen; they say too, not that a man has succeeded in his affairs, but that 
he ‘is a success’, and this is as much as to identify the individual completely with his 
material gains. 

4. This association, by the way, is not an entirely new thing, for it actually goes 
back to the ‘moral arithmetic’ of Bentham, which dates from the end of the eigh- 
teenth century. 


but the positive conclusion that will emerge will be always the same, 
namely, that the real goal of the tendency that is dragging men and 
things toward pure quantity can only be the final dissolution of the 
present world. 



Let us now return to the explanation of how a world conform- 
ing as far as is possible to the materialistic conception has been 
effectively realized in the modern period. If this is to be understood, 
it must be remembered above all that, as has been often pointed 
out, the human order and the cosmic order are not in reality sepa- 
rated, as they are nowadays all too readily imagined to be; they are 
on the contrary closely bound together, in such a way that each con- 
tinuously reacts on the other, so that there is always correspondence 
between their respective states. This correspondence is essentially 
implied in the whole doctrine of cycles; without it the traditional 
data with which the said doctrine is concerned would be almost 
entirely unintelligible; the relationship existing between certain 
critical phases of human history and certain cataclysms that occur 
according to a known astronomical periodicity affords perhaps the 
most striking example, but it is obvious that this is only an extreme 
case of correspondences of this kind, which in fact subsist continu- 
ously, for there is never any break in the correspondence, though 
this fact is no doubt less apparent when modifications are taking 
place only gradually and so almost insensibly. 

That being the case, it is quite natural that in the course of cycli- 
cal development both the cosmic manifestation as a whole and also 
human mentality, which is of course necessarily included therein, 
together follow the same descending course, the nature of which has 
already been specified as consisting in a gradual movement away 
from the principle, and thus away from the primal spirituality 
inherent in the essential pole of manifestation. This course can be 


described in terms of current terminology (thus incidentally bring- 
ing out clearly the correlation under consideration), as a sort of 
progressive ‘materialization’ of the cosmic environment itself, and it 
is only when this ‘materialization’ has reached a certain stage, by 
now already very marked, that the materialistic conception can 
appear in man as its correlative, together with the general attitude 
that corresponds with it in practice and fits in, as explained, with 
the picture of ‘ordinary life’; moreover, in the absence of this factual 
‘materialization’ there would not be the least semblance of justifica- 
tion for the corresponding theoretical conception, for the sur- 
rounding reality would too obviously give the lie to it all the time. 
The very idea of matter, as understood by the moderns, could cer- 
tainly not come to birth except in such conditions; what that idea 
expresses more or less confusedly is in any case no more than a 
limit, unattainable while the descent of manifestation is still going 
on, firstly, because matter is regarded as being in itself something 
purely quantitative, and secondly because it is supposed to be ‘inert’, 
and a world in which there was anything really ‘inert’ would for that 
reason forthwith cease to exist; the idea of ‘matter’ is therefore as 
illusory as it could possibly be, since it corresponds to no reality of 
any kind, however lowly its position in the hierarchy of manifested 
existence. In other words it could be said that ‘materialization’ exists 
as a tendency, but that ‘materiality’, which would be the complete 
fulfillment of that tendency, is an unrealizable condition. One con- 
sequence of this, among others, is that the mechanical laws theoret- 
ically formulated by modern science are never susceptible of an 
exact and rigorous application to the conditions of experience, 
wherein there always remain elements that are entirely beyond 
their grasp, even in the phase in which the part played by such ele- 
ments is in a sense reduced to a minimum. So it is always a case of 
approximation, and during this phase, leaving out of account cases 
that will in such times be exceptional, approximation may suffice 
for immediate practical needs; but a very crude simplification is 
nevertheless implied, and it deprives the mechanical laws not only 
of all claim to ‘exactitude’, but even of all value as ‘science’ in the 
true meaning of the word; it is moreover only through an approxi- 
mation of the same kind that the sensible world can take on the 


appearance of a closed system’, either in the eyes of the physicists or 
in the sequence of the events that constitute ‘ordinary life’. 

Instead of speaking as heretofore of ‘materialization’, it would be 
possible to use the word ‘solidification’ in a sense that is fundamen- 
tally the same, and in a manner perhaps more precise and perhaps 
even more ‘realistic’, for solid bodies, owing to their density and 
their impenetrability, do in fact give the illusion of ‘materiality’ 
more strongly than does anything else. At the same time, this recalls 
how Bergson, as pointed out earlier, speaks of the ‘solid’ as consti- 
tuting in some way the true domain of reason, and in this he is evi- 
dently referring, whether consciously or otherwise (and doubtless 
not very consciously, for not only is he speaking generally and with- 
out making any reservation, but he even thinks it right to speak of 
‘intelligence’ in this connection, as he always does when what he is 
talking about really appertains to reason alone), more particularly 
to what he sees around him, namely the ‘scientific’ use to which rea- 
son is put. Now the actual occurrence of ‘solidification’ is precisely 
the true reason why modern science ‘succeeds’, certainly not in its 
theories which remain as false as before, and in any case change all 
the time, but in its practical applications. In other periods, when 
‘solidification’ was not yet so marked, not only could man never 
have dreamed of industry as we know it today, but any such indus- 
try would actually have been completely impossible in its entirety, 
as would the ‘ordinary life’ in which industry plays so great a part. 
This, incidentally, is enough to cut short all the fancies of those so- 
called ‘clairvoyants’ who, imagining the past on the model of the 
present, attribute to certain ‘prehistoric’ civilizations of a very re- 
mote date something quite similar to the contemporary ‘machine 
civilization’; this is only one of the forms of error that gives rise to 
the common saying that ‘history repeats itself’, and it implies a total 
ignorance of what have been called the qualitative determinations 
of time. 

In order to reach the stage that has been described, man must 
have lost the use of the faculties which in normal times allowed him 
to pass beyond the bounds of the sensible world, the loss being due 
to the existence of ‘materialization’ or ‘solidification’, naturally as 
effective in him as in the rest of the cosmic manifestation of which 


he is a part, and producing considerable modifications in his ‘psy- 
cho-physiological’ constitution. For even if the sensible world is in a 
very real sense surrounded by barriers that can be said to be thicker 
than they were in its earlier states, it is nonetheless true that there 
can never anywhere be an absolute separation between different 
orders of existence; any such separation would have the effect of 
cutting off from reality itself the domain thus isolated, so that in any 
such event the existence of that domain, that of the sensible world 
in this instance, would instantly vanish. It might however legiti- 
mately be asked how so complete and so general an atrophy of cer- 
tain faculties has actually come about. In order that it might take 
place, man had first of all to be induced to turn all his attention 
exclusively to sensible things; the work of deviation had necessarily 
to begin in this way, that work which could be said to consist in the 
‘manufacturing’ of the present world, and it clearly could not ‘suc- 
ceed’ in its turn except precisely at this phase of the cycle, and by 
using, in ‘diabolical’ mode, the existing conditions of the environ- 
ment itself. So much for this matter, which need not be further 
insisted on for the moment; nevertheless, the solemn silliness of 
certain declamations dear to scientific (or rather ‘scientistic’) ‘popu- 
larizes’ can scarcely be too much admired, when they are pleased to 
assert on all occasions that modern science ceaselessly pushes back 
the boundaries of the known world, which is in fact the exact oppo- 
site of the truth: never have those boundaries been so close as they 
are in the conceptions admitted by this profane self-styled science, 
never have either the world or man been so shrunken, to the point 
of their being reduced to mere corporeal entities, deprived, by 
hypothesis, of the smallest possibility of communication with any 
other order of reality! 

There is also yet another aspect of the question, both reciprocal 
and complementary to the aspect considered hitherto: man is not 
restricted at any stage to the passive role of a mere spectator, who 
must confine himself to forming an idea more or less true, or more 
or less false, of what is happening'around him; on the contrary, he is 
himself one of the factors that intervene actively in the modification 
of the world he lives in; and it must be added that he is even a par- 
ticularly important factor, by reason of the characteristically ‘cen- 
tral’ position he occupies in that world. The mention of this human 


intervention does not imply that the artificial modifications to 
which industry subjects the terrestrial environment are alone in 
view, and in any case they are too obvious to be worth spending 
time on: they are certainly something to be taken into account, but 
they are not everything, and the matter now particularly to be con- 
sidered in relation to the point of view of the present discussion is 
something quite different, and is not willed by man, at least 
expressly or consciously, though it nonetheless actually covers a 
much wider field than do any artificial modifications. The truth is 
that the materialistic conception, once it has been formed and 
spread abroad in one way or another, can only serve to further rein- 
force the very ‘solidification of the world that in the first place made 
it possible; and all the consequences directly or indirectly derived 
from that conception, including the current notion of ‘ordinary life’, 
tend only toward this same end, for the general reactions of the cos- 
mic environment do actually change according to the attitude 
adopted by man toward it. It can be said with truth that certain 
aspects of reality conceal themselves from anyone who looks upon 
reality from a profane and materialistic point of view, and they 
become inaccessible to his observation: this is not a more or less 
‘picturesque’ manner of speaking, as some people might be tempted 
to think, but is the simple and direct statement of a fact, just as it is a 
fact that animals flee spontaneously and instinctively from the pres- 
ence of anyone who evinces a hostile attitude toward them. That is 
why there are some things that can never be grasped by men of 
learning who are materialists or positivists, and this naturally fur- 
ther confirms their belief in the validity of their conceptions by 
seeming to afford a sort of negative proof of them, whereas it is 
really neither more nor less than a direct effect of the conceptions 
themselves. It is of course by no means the case that the things that 
elude the materialists have in any sense ceased to exist since the time 
of> or because of, the birth of materialism and positivism, but they 
do actually ‘cut themselves off from the domain that is within the 
reach of profane learning, refraining from penetrating into it in any 
Way that could allow their action or even their existence to be sus- 
pected, very much as, in another order not unrelated to the order 
under consideration, the repository of traditional knowledge veils 
itself and shuts itself in ever more strictly before the invasion of the 


modern spirit. This is in a sense the ‘counterpart’ of the limitation of 
the faculties of the human being to those that are by their nature 
related to the corporeal modality alone: because of that limitation 
man becomes, as has been explained, incapable of getting out of the 
sensible world; because of what has just been called its ‘counterpart’ 
he loses in addition all chance of becoming aware of a manifest 
intervention of supra-sensible elements in the sensible world itself. 
So for him that world has become to the greatest possible extent 
completely ‘closed’, for it has become ever more ‘solid’ as it has 
become more isolated from every other order of reality, even from 
those orders that are nearest to it and simply constitute separate 
modalities of one and the same individual domain. From the inside 
of such a world it may appear that ‘ordinary life’ has only to roll on 
henceforward without trouble or unforeseen accidents, just like the 
movements of a well regulated ‘mechanism’; is not modern man, 
having ‘mechanized’ the world around him doing his very best to 
‘mechanize’ himself, in all the forms of activity that still remain 
open to his narrowly limited nature? 

Nevertheless, the ‘solidification’ of the world, to whatever length 
it may actually be carried, can never be complete, and there are lim- 
its beyond which it cannot go, since, as explained earlier, arrival at 
its extreme end-point would be incompatible with any real exist- 
ence, even of the lowest degree; and moreover, the further ‘solidifi- 
cation’ goes the more precarious it becomes, for the lowest reality is 
also the least stable; the ever-growing rapidity of the changes taking 
place in the world today provides all too eloquent a testimony to the 
truth of this. It cannot but be that ‘fissures’ should develop in this 
imagined ‘closed system’, which has moreover, owing to its ‘mech- 
anical’ character, something ‘artificial’ about it (this word of course 
being used in a sense much broader than in its usual application to 
industrial products alone) that is not such as to inspire confidence 
in its duration; and there are already at this moment numerous 
signs indicating most clearly that its unstable equilibrium is on the 
point of being interrupted. So thie is this that what has been said 
about the materialism and mechanism of the modern period could 
almost in a certain sense be relegated to the past even now; this of 
course does not mean that their practical consequences may not 


continue to develop for a certain time to come, nor that their infl- 
uence on the general mentality will not persist for a more or less 
considerable period, if only as a consequence of ‘popularization’ in 
its various forms, including education in schools at all levels, where 
there are always plenty of ‘survivals’ of that sort hanging on (this 
point will be expanded shortly); but it is nonetheless true that at the 
present moment the very notion of ‘matter’, so painfully worked out 
through so many different theories, seems to be in course of fading 
away; nevertheless, there is perhaps no reason to be unduly pleased 
at the occurrence, because, as will become clearer later on, it can 
only properly be taken to represent yet one more step toward final 



Reference has already been made to ‘survivals’ left behind in 
the common mentality by theories no longer believed in by the sci- 
entists, whereby those theories are enabled to continue as before to 
exercise their influence over the general outlook of mankind, and it 
will be useful to give some further attention to the subject, for it is 
one that can contribute toward the explanation of certain aspects of 
the present period. In this connection it should first be recalled that 
when profane science leaves the domain of a mere observation of 
facts, and tries to get something out of the indefinite accumulation 
of separate details that is its sole immediate result, it retains as one 
of its chief characteristics the more or less laborious construction of 
purely hypothetical theories. These theories can necessarily never be 
more than hypothetical, since their starting-point is wholly empiri- 
cal, for facts in themselves are always susceptible of diverse explana- 
tions and so never have been and never will be able to guarantee the 
truth of any theory, and as was said earlier, their greater or lesser 
multiplicity has no bearing on the question; and besides, such 
hypotheses are really not inspired by the results of experience to 
nearly the same extent as by certain preconceived ideas and by some 
of the predominant tendencies of the modern mentality. The ever- 
growing rapidity with which such hypotheses are abandoned in 
these days and replaced by others is well known, and these continual 
changes are enough to make all too obvious the lack of solidity of 
the hypotheses and the impossibility of recognizing in them any 


value so far as real knowledge is concerned; they are also assuming 
more and more, in the eyes of their authors themselves, a conven- 
tional character, and so a quality of unreality, and this again may be 
noted as a symptom of the approach toward final dissolution. 
Indeed the scientists, and particularly the physicists, can hardly be 
completely deceived by constructions of this sort, the fragility of 
which they know all too well, today more so than ever. Not only are 
they quickly ‘worn-out’, but from their beginnings the very people 
who build them up only believe in them to a certain doubtless 
rather limited extent, and in a more or less ‘provisional’ way; very 
often they even seem to regard them less as real attempts at explana- 
tion than as mere ‘representations’ and as ‘manners of speaking’. 
This indeed is really all they are, and we have seen that Leibnitz had 
already shown that Cartesian mechanism could be nothing but a 
‘representation’ of outward appearances, denuded of all genuinely 
explanatory value. Under such conditions the least that can be said 
is that the whole business is rather pointless, and a conception of 
science that can lead to a labour of that kind is certainly a strange 
one; but the danger of these illusory theories lies in the influence 
they are liable to exercise on the ‘public at large’ by virtue of the fact 
that they call themselves ‘scientific’, for the public takes them quite 
seriously and blindly accepts them as ‘dogmas’, and that not merely 
for as long as they last (that time often being not long enough for 
them to have even come fully to the knowledge of the public) but 
more especially when the scientists have already abandoned them, 
and for a long time afterward as well. This happens because they 
persist, as was pointed out earlier, in elementary teaching and in 
works of ‘popularization’, in which they are always presented in a 
‘simplified’ and resolutely assertive form, and not by any means as 
mere hypotheses, though that is all they ever were for those who 
elaborated them. The use of the word ‘dogma’ a moment ago was 
deliberate, for it is a question of something that, in accordance with 
the anti-traditional modern spirit, must oppose and be substituted 
for religious dogmas; an example like that of the ‘evolutionary’ the- 
ories, among others, can leave no doubt on that score; and it is even 
more significant that most of the ‘popularizers’ have the habit of 
sprinkling their writings with more or less violent declamations 


against all traditional ideas, which shows only too clearly the part 
they are charged with playing, albeit unconsciously in many cases, 
in the intellectual subversion of our times. 

Thus it comes about that there has grown up in the scientistic 
‘mentality’— which is, for the largely utilitarian reasons already 
indicated, more or less the mentality of a great majority of our 
contemporaries— a real ‘mythology’: most certainly not in the orig- 
inal and transcendent meaning applicable to the traditional ‘myths’, 
but merely in the ‘pejorative’ meaning that the word has acquired in 
current speech. Endless examples could be cited: one of the most 
striking and most ‘immediate’, so to speak, being the ‘imagery’ of 
atoms and the many particles of various kinds into which they have 
lately become dissociated in the most recent physical theories (the 
result of this of course being that they are no longer in any sense 
atoms, which literally means ‘indivisibles’, though they go on being 
called by that name in the face of all logic). ‘Imagery’ is the right 
word, because it is no more than imagery in the minds of the physi- 
cists; but the ‘public at large’ believes firmly that real ‘entities’ are in 
question, such as could be seen and touched by anyone whose 
senses were sufficiently developed or who had at his disposal suffi- 
ciently powerful instruments of observation; is not that a ‘mythol- 
ogy’ of a most ingenuous kind? This does not prevent the same 
public from pouring scorn on the conceptions of the ancients at 
every opportunity, though of course they do not understand a sin- 
gle word about them; even admitting that there may have been 
‘popular’ deformations at all times (‘popular’ being another word 
that people are very fond of using wrongly and ineptly, doubtless 
because of the growing importance accorded to the ‘masses’), it is 
permissible to doubt whether those deformations have ever been so 
grossly materialistic and at the same time so widely diffused as they 
are at present, thanks to the tendencies inherent in the mentality of 
today and at the same time to the much vaunted spread of a ‘com- 
pulsory education’ at once profane and rudimentary! 

Too much time must not be spent on this subject, for it would 
lend itself to an almost indefinite development, since it leads too far 
afield from the main point at issue; it would for instance be easy to 
show that, by reason of the ‘survival’ of hypotheses, elements that 


really belong to different theories get superimposed and intermin- 
gled in such a way in popular notions that they sometimes form the 
most incongruous combinations; and in any case the contemporary 
^mentality is made up in such a way that it readily accepts the strang- 
I est contradictions. But it will be more profitable to stress again a 
Iparticular aspect of this subject, though admittedly this will involve 
some anticipation of considerations that will find their place later 
! on, for it concerns things more properly belonging to a phase other 
than that which has been in view up till now, though these phases 
cannot be kept quite separate, for that would give much too ‘sche- 
matic’ an impression of our period. At the same time a glimpse can 
be given of the way in which the tendencies toward ‘solidification’ 
and toward dissolution, while they are apparently opposed in some 
respects, are nevertheless associated from the very fact that they act 
simultaneously in such a way as to come to an inevitable end in the 
final catastrophe. The aspect of affairs to which attention will now 
be directed is the quite particularly extravagant character assumed 
by the notions in question when they are carried over into a domain 
other than that to which they were originally intended to be applied; 
from such misapplications are derived most of the phantasmagoria 
of what has been called ‘neo-spiritualism’ in its various forms, and it 
is just such borrowings from conceptions belonging essentially to 
the sensible order which explain the sort of ‘materialization’ of the 
supra-sensible that is one of its most common characteristics . 1 
Without seeking for the moment to determine more precisely the 
nature and quality of the supra-sensible, insofar as it is actually 
involved in this matter, it will be useful to observe how far the very 
people who still admit it and think that they are aware of its action 
are in reality permeated by materialistic influence: for even if they 
do not deny all extra-corporeal reality, like the majority of their con- 
temporaries, it is only because they have formed for themselves an 
idea of it that enables them in some way to assimilate it to the like- 
ness of sensible things, and to do that is certainly scarcely better than 
to deny it. There is no reason to be surprised at this, considering the 

1. This sort of thing is particularly apparent in spiritualism, and in the crudest 
possible forms; a number of examples were given in The Spiritist Fallacy. 

124 the reign of quantity 

extent to which all the occultist, Theosophist, and other schools of 
that sort are fond of searching assiduously for points of approach to 
modern scientific theories, from which indeed they draw their 
inspiration more directly than they are prepared to admit, and the 
result is what might logically be expected under such conditions. It 
may even be observed that, in accordance with the continuous 
changes in scientific theories, the resemblance between the concep- 
tions of a particular school and a particular scientific theory may 
make it possible to ‘date’ the school, in default of any more precise 
information about its history and its origins. 

This state of affairs had its beginning at the time when the study 
and the control of certain psychic influences descended, if it may be 
so expressed, into the profane domain, and this in a certain sense 
marks the beginning of the phase of ‘dissolution properly so called 
in the modern deviation. This time can broadly speaking be placed 
as far back as the eighteenth century, so that it is seen to be exactly 
contemporary with materialism itself, showing clearly that these 
two things, contraries in appearance only, had in fact to appear 
together; it does not seem that anything of the kind was in evidence 
at any earlier date, no doubt because the deviation had not then 
attained the stage of development that could make such a thing pos- 
sible. The chief characteristic of the scientific ‘mythology’ of that 
period was the conception of ‘fluids’ of different kinds, all physical 
forces being imagined to exist in some such form; it is precisely this 
conception that was carried over from the corporeal order into the 
subtle order in the theory of ‘animal magnetism’. If this is related 
back to the idea of the ‘solidification’ of the world, it might perhaps 
be thought that a ‘fluid’ is by definition the opposite of a ‘solid’; but 
it is nonetheless true that in this case both play exactly the same 
part, because the conception of ‘fluids’ has the effect of ‘embodying’ 
things that really belong to subtle manifestation. The magnetizers 
were in a sense the direct precursors of ‘neo-spiritualism’, if indeed 
they were not really its first representatives; their theories and their 
practices influenced to a greater' or lesser extent all the schools that 
came into being later, whether they were openly profane, like spiri- 
tualism, or whether they had pseudo-initiatic pretensions, like the 
many varieties of occultism. This persistent influence is all the more 


strange in that it seems quite disproportionate to the importance of 
the psychic phenomena, very elementary as they were, which con- 
stituted the field of experiment in magnetism; but perhaps even 
more astonishing is the part played by this same magnetism, right 
from the time of its first appearance, in turning aside from all seri- 
ous work initiatic organizations that had still retained up to that 
time, if not a very far-reaching effective knowledge, at least an 
awareness of what they had lost in this respect and the will to do 
their best to recover it. It is permissible to suppose that this is not 
the least of the reasons for which magnetism was ‘launched’ at the 
appointed time, even though, as almost always happens in similar 
cases, its apparent promoters were acting only as more or less 
unconscious instruments. 

The ‘fluidic’ conception survived in the common mentality, 
though not in the theories of physicists, at least up to about the mid- 
dle of the nineteenth century (though expressions such as ‘electric 
fluid’ continued to be used for even longer, but more in a mechani- 
cal way and without a precise imagery any longer being attached to 
them); spiritualism, which came to birth at that period, inherited 
the conception all the more naturally through being predisposed to 
it by an original connection with magnetism; and this connection is 
much closer than might be at first supposed, for it is highly probable 
that spiritualism could never have reached any very considerable 
development but for the divagations of the somnambulists, and also 
that it was the existence of magnetic ‘subjects’ which prepared for 
and made possible the existence of spiritualist ‘mediums’. Even 
today most magnetizers and spiritualists continue to talk of ‘fluids’, 
and what is more, to believe seriously in them; this ‘anachronism’ is 
all the more strange in that these people are in general fanatical par- 
tisans of ‘progress’; such an attitude fits in badly with a conception 
that has for a long time been excluded from the scientific domain 
and so ought in their eyes to appear very ‘backward’. In the present- 
day mythology, ‘fluids’ have been replaced by ‘waves’ and ‘radia- 
tions’, these last in their turn of course effectively playing the part of 
fluids’ in the theories most recently invented to try to explain the 
action of certain subtle influences; it should suffice to mention ‘radi- 
aesthesia’ which is as ‘typical’ as possible in this respect. Needless to 


say, if it were only a question in all these affairs of mere images, of 
comparisons based on some analogy (and not on identity) with 
phenomena in the sensible order, the matter would not have very 
serious consequences, and might even be justified up to a point; but 
such is not the case, for the ‘radiaesthesists’ believe very literally that 
the psychic influences with which they are concerned are ‘waves’ or 
‘radiations’ propagated in space in the most ‘corporeal’ manner that 
it is possible to imagine; moreover, thought itself does not escape 
from representation in this fashion. Here we find another case of the 
same ‘materialization’ continuing to assert itself in a new form, per- 
haps more insidious than that of ‘fluids’ because it may appear to be 
less crude; nonetheless the whole affair belongs fundamentally to 
exactly the same order and does no more than express the very limi- 
tations that are inherent in the modern mentality and consist in an 
incapacity to conceive of anything whatsoever outside the domain 
of the formation of mental images of sensible things . 2 

It is scarcely necessary to add that the ‘clairvoyants’, according to 
the schools to which they belong, go so far as to see ‘fluids’ or ‘radia- 
tions’, just as there are some, particularly among the Theosophists, 
who see atoms and electrons; here, as in many other matters, what 
they in fact see are their own mental images, which naturally always 
fit well with the particular theories they believe in. There are some 
who see the ‘fourth dimension’, and even other supplementary 
dimensions of space as well; and this leads to a few words in conclu- 
sion on another case that also appertains to ‘scientific mythology’, 
and might well be called the ‘delirium of the fourth dimension’. It 
must be agreed that ‘hypergeometry’ seems to have been devised in 
order to strike the imagination of people who have not enough 
mathematical knowledge to be aware of the true character of an 
algebraic construction expressed in geometrical terms, for that is 
really what ‘hypergeometry’ is; and it may be noted in passing that 
this is another example of the dangers of ‘popularization’. Moreover, 

2. It is as a result of this same incapacity and of the confusion to which it gives 
rise that Kant, in the philosophic field, did not hesitate to declare to be ‘inconceiv- 
able’ everything that is merely ‘unimaginable’; moreover, speaking more generally, it 
is the very same limitations that really gave birth to all the varieties of ‘agnosticism’. 


well before the physicists had thought of bringing the ‘fourth 
dimension into their hypotheses (which had already become much 
more mathematical than really physical, because their character had 
become both increasingly quantitative and at the same time increas- 
ingly ‘conventional’) the ‘psychists’ (they were not yet called ‘meta- 
psychists’ in those days) were already making use of it to explain 
phenomena in which one solid body appears to pass through 
another; and here again it was not for them a case of a mere picture 
‘illustrating’ in some way what may be called ‘interferences’ between 
different domains or states, which would have been unobjection- 
able, but, according to their ideas, the body in question had quite 
genuinely passed through the ‘fourth dimension’. That was in any 
case only a beginning, and in recent years, under the influence of the 
new physics, occultist schools have been observed to go so far as to 
build up the greater part of their theories on this same conception 
of a ‘fourth dimension’; it may be noted also in this connection that 
occultism and modern science tend more and more to join up with 
one another as the ‘disintegration’ proceeds step by step, because 
both are traveling toward it by their different paths. The ‘fourth 
dimension’ will be spoken of again later from a different point of 
view; but enough has been said about that sort of thing for the 
present, and the time has come to turn to other considerations more 
directly related to the question of the ‘solidification’ of the world. 



It has already been indicated that, because of the qualita- 
tive differences between different periods of time, for example 
between the various phases of a cycle such as our own Manvantara 
(it being obvious that outside the limits of the duration of the 
present humanity conditions must be still more different), changes 
come about in the cosmic environment generally, and more espe- 
cially in the terrestrial environment that concerns us most directly; 
and also that profane science, with its horizon bounded by the mod- 
ern world in which alone it had its birth, can form no sort of idea of 
these changes. The result is that, whatever epoch science may have 
in view, it pictures to itself a world in which conditions are assumed 
to be similar to those of today. We have seen that the psychologists 
imagine in the same way that man has always in the past had a men- 
tality similar to that of today; and what is true in this respect of the 
psychologists is no less true of the historians, who assess the actions 
of the men of antiquity or of the Middle Ages exactly as they would 
assess those of their own contemporaries, attributing to each the 
same motives and the same intentions. Thus, whether man or his 
environment be in view, it is evident that those simplified and ‘uni- 
formizing’ conceptions that correspond so well with present-day 
tendencies are being brought into play: as for knowing how this 
‘uniformization’ of the past can be reconciled with the ‘progressivist’ 
and evolutionist’ theories that are simultaneously adhered to by the 


same individuals, that is a problem the solution of which will cer- 
tainly not be attempted here; it is no doubt only one more example 
of the endless contradictions of the modern mentality. 

In speaking of changes in the environment, the intention is not to 
allude only to the more or less extensive cataclysms that in one way 
or another mark the critical points’ of the cycle; these are abrupt 
changes corresponding to real ruptures of equilibrium, and even in 
cases where for example it is only a question of the disappearance of 
a single continent (and such events have in fact occurred in the 
course of the history of our present humanity), it is easy to see that 
the terrestrial environment in its entirety must nevertheless be 
affected by the repercussions of any such event, and that the ‘face of 
the world’, so to speak, must thereby be markedly changed. But 
there are in addition continuous and imperceptible modifications 
which, within a period free from any cataclysm, produce bit by bit 
results that in the end are scarcely less impressive; these are not of 
course only simple ‘geological’ modifications as understood by pro- 
fane science, and it is incidentally an error to consider the cata- 
clysms from this narrow point of view alone, since it is always 
restricted to whatever is most exterior; what is in view here is some- 
thing much more profound, bearing on the conditions of the envi- 
ronment themselves in such a way that, even if no account were 
taken of geological phenomena as being no more than details of 
secondary importance, beings and things would nonetheless be 
really changed. As for the artificial modifications produced by 
man’s intervention, they are after all only consequential, because, as 
previously explained, nothing but the special conditions of this or 
that period could make them possible; if man can indeed act on his 
surroundings in some more profound way, it is rather psychically 
than corporally that he can do so, as may be well enough under- 
stood from what has been said about the effects of the materialistic 

The explanations given hitherto make it easy now to understand 
the general direction in which such changes take place: this direc- 
tion has been designated as that of the ‘solidification’ of the world, 
conferring on all things an aspect corresponding ever more closely 
(though never really corresponding exactly) to the way in which 


things appear according to quantitative, mechanistic, or materialis- 
tic conceptions; and this is why modern science succeeds in its prac- 
tical applications, as indicated above, and also why the surrounding 
reality does not seem to give the lie to it too strikingly. Such could 
not have been the case in earlier periods, when the world was not so 
‘solid’ as it has become today, and when the corporeal and subtle 
modalities of the individual domain were not as completely sepa- 
rated (although, as we shall see later, certain reservations must even 
in the present state of affairs be made with respect to that separa- 
tion). It was not only that man, whose faculties were then much less 
narrowly limited, did not see the world with eyes that were the same 
as those of today, and perceived many things which since then have 
escaped him entirely; but also, and correlatively, the world itself, as a 
cosmic entity, was indeed qualitatively different, because possibili- 
ties of another order were reflected in the corporeal domain and in a 
sense ‘transfigured’ it; thus, for example, when certain ‘legends’ say 
that there was a time when precious stones were as common as the 
most ordinary pebbles are now, the statement need not perhaps be 
taken only in a purely symbolical sense. The symbolical sense is of 
course always there in such a case, but this does not imply that it is 
the only valid sense, for everything manifested is itself necessarily a 
symbol in relation to some superior reality; it seems unnecessary to 
insist on this point, which has been adequately explained elsewhere, 
both in a general way, and as it concerns particular cases such as the 
symbolic value of the facts of history and geography. 

Before going any further, an objection that may arise in connec- 
tion with the qualitative changes in the ‘face of the world’ must be 
met. It may perhaps be argued that, if things were so, the vestiges of 
bygone periods which are all the time being discovered ought to 
provide evidence of the fact, whereas, leaving ‘geological’ epochs out 
of consideration and keeping to matters that affect human history, 
archaeologists and even ‘prehistorians’ never find anything of the 
kind, however far their researches may be carried into the past. The 
answer is really very simple: first bf all, these vestiges, in the state in 
which they are found today and inasmuch as they are consequently 
part of the existing environment, have inevitably participated, like 
everything else, in the ‘solidification’ of the world; if they had not 


done so their existence would no longer be compatible with the pre- 
vailing conditions and they would have completely disappeared, 
and this no doubt is what has happened to many things which have 
not left the smallest trace. Next, the archaeologists examine these 
vestiges with modern eyes, which only perceive the coarsest modal- 
ity of manifestation, so that even if, in spite of all, something more 
subtle has remained attached to the vestiges, the archaeologists are 
certainly quite incapable of becoming aware of it; in short, they treat 
these things as the mechanical physicists treat the things they have 
to deal with, because their mentality is the same and their faculties 
are equally limited. It is said that when a treasure is sought for by a 
person for whom, for one reason or another, it is not destined, the 
gold and precious stones are changed for him into coal and com- 
mon pebbles; modern lovers of excavations might well turn this 
particular ‘legend’ to their profit! 

However that may be, it is very sure that historians, simply 
because they undertake all their researches from a modern and pro- 
fane point of view, come up against certain ‘barriers’ in time that 
prove more or less completely impassable; and, as was pointed out 
elsewhere, the first of these ‘barriers’ is met with toward the sixth 
century before the Christian era, at which point, according to mod- 
ern conceptions, history properly so called begins; so that all things 
considered antiquity as understood in this history is a very relative 
antiquity indeed. It will no doubt be said that recent researches have 
made it possible to go back much further, by bringing to light the 
remains of a much more remote antiquity, and that is true up to a 
point; it is nevertheless rather remarkable that in such cases there is 
no longer any clearly established chronology, so much so that diver- 
gences in the estimation of the dates of objects and of events 
amount to centuries and sometimes even to whole millennia; and 
in addition, it seems impossible to arrive at even a moderately pre- 
cise conception of the civilizations of these more distant periods, 
because terms of comparison with what exists today can no longer 
be found, although they can be found when it is only a question of 
‘classical’ antiquity. This, however, does not imply that ‘classical’ 
antiquity as represented to us by modern historians is not greatly 
disfigured, the same being true of the Middle Ages though they are 


even nearer to us in time. Moreover, the truth is that the most 
ancient things so far made known to us by archaeological research 
do not belong to a period more remote than about the beginning of 
the Kali-Yuga , where naturally there is situated a second ‘barrier’; 
and if some means could be found for crossing this one, there 
would be yet a third, corresponding to the time of the last great ter- 
restrial cataclysm, the cataclysm traditionally referred to as the dis- 
appearance of Atlantis; it would evidently be quite useless to try to 
go back further still, for before the historians had been able to reach 
that point the modern world would have had plenty of time to dis- 
appear in its turn! 

These few indications are enough to make it clear how vain are all 
the discussions to which the profane (the word is used here to 
include all who are affected by the modern spirit) may wish to 
devote their time on matters connected with the earlier periods of 
the Manvantara , with the ‘golden age’ or the ‘primordial tradition’, 
or even with much less remote events such as the biblical ‘deluge’, 
taking this last only in its more immediately literal meaning, in 
which it relates to the cataclysm of Atlantis; these matters are among 
those that are wholly beyond their reach and will always be so. That 
of course is why they deny them, as they deny indifferently every- 
thing that goes beyond them in any way, for all their studies and all 
their researches, being undertaken from a point of view both false 
and restricted, can most certainly result in nothing but the denial of 
everything that is not comprehended in that point of view. And on 
top of all this, these people are so far persuaded of their own ‘superi- 
ority’ that they are unable to admit the existence or even the possi- 
bility of anything whatever that eludes their investigations; blind 
men would surely have equally sound reasons for denying the exist- 
ence of light and then using that as a pretext for boasting of their 
superiority over normal men! 

What has been said about the limits of history, as conceived 
according to the profane conception, can also be applied to the lim- 
its of geography, wherein there' are also many things that have 
passed completely beyond the horizon of the moderns; anyone who 
compares the descriptions of ancient geographers with those of 
modern geographers must often be led to wonder whether it is 


really possible that both are speaking of the same countries. Never- 
theless the ancient geographers are only ancient in a very relative 
sense, and it is not necessary to go back further than the Middle 
Ages in order to come across contrasts of that kind; in the interval 
that separates them from us there has certainly been no notable cat- 
aclysm; is it possible that the world has been able in spite of this to 
change its appearance to such an extent and so quickly? It is of 
course accepted that the moderns will say that the ancients did not 
see clearly, or that they did not record clearly what they saw; but any 
such explanation, which amounts to no more than supposing that 
all men before our time were troubled with sensorial and mental 
afflictions, really is a great deal too ‘simplistic’ and negative; and if 
the question is examined with true impartiality, why should it not 
be the moderns who do not see clearly, and who even fail to see 
some things at all? They triumphantly proclaim that ‘the world has 
now been discovered in its entirety,’ though this may perhaps not be 
as true as they think, and they couple this with the supposition that 
the greater part of the world was unknown to the ancients; in that 
connection it may well be wondered what particular ancients they 
are talking about, and whether they think that there were no men 
before their own time other than the Westerners of the ‘classical’ 
period, and that the inhabited world did not then extend beyond a 
small fraction of Europe and Asia Minor; and they say too that ‘this 
unknown, because it was unknown, could not be otherwise than 
mysterious’; but where have they found out that the ancients char- 
acterized any of these things as ‘mysterious’, and is it not they them- 
selves who proclaim them to be so because they no longer under- 
stand them? Again, they say that in the beginning ‘marvels’ were 
met with, and that later there were only ‘singularities’ or ‘curiosities’ 
and that finally ‘it was seen that these singularities conformed to 
general laws, which men of learning sought to establish’; but is not 
what they here describe with very fair accuracy precisely the succes- 
sive stages of the limitation of human faculties, stages of which the 
last corresponds to what may justly be called the mania for rational 
explanations, with all the gross insufficiency that is theirs? In fact, 
this last way of looking at things, from which proceeds modern 
geography, really only dates from the seventeenth and eighteenth 

134 the reign of quantity 

centuries, that is, from the very period that saw the birth and diffu- 
sion of the specifically rationalist mentality, and this confirms the 
explanations given; from that time the faculties of conception and 
perception that allowed man to reach out to something other than 
the coarsest and most inferior mode of reality were totally atro- 
phied, while the world itself was at the same time irremediably 

If things are looked at in this way, the following conclusion 
emerges: either, on the one hand, things could formerly be seen that 
are no longer visible, because considerable changes have taken place 
in the terrestrial environment or in human faculties, or rather in 
both together, such changes moreover becoming more rapid as the 
present period is approached; or, on the other hand, what is called 
‘geography’ had in the old days a significance quite other than that 
which it has today. Actually, the two terms of this alternative are not 
mutually exclusive, and each of them expresses one side of the truth, 
for the conception formed of a science naturally depends both on 
the point of view from which its object is considered and on the 
extent to which the realities implicit in it can be effectively grasped: 
in relation to both these sides of the truth, a traditional science and 
a profane science, even if they have identical names (and this gener- 
ally indicates that the latter is as it were a ‘residue’ of the former) are 
so profoundly different that they are in truth separated by an abyss. 
Now there is really and truly a ‘sacred’ or traditional geography, as 
completely unknown to the moderns as is all other knowledge of the 
same kind; there is a geographical symbolism as well as a historical 
symbolism, and it is the symbolical value of things that gives them 
their profound significance, because through it is established their 
correspondence with realities of a higher order; but it is not possible 
for this correspondence to be effectively determined unless there is 
the ability to perceive, in one way or another, the reflection of the 
said realities in the things themselves. Thus it is that there are places 
particularly suited to serve as ‘support’ for the action of ‘spiritual 
influences’, and on this fact has always been based the establishment 
of certain traditional ‘centers’, whether principal or secondary, the 
oracles of antiquity and the places of pilgrimage furnishing the most 
outwardly apparent examples of such ‘centers’. There are also other 


places no less specially favorable to the manifestation of ‘influences’ 
quite opposite in character, and belonging to the lowest regions of 
the subtle domain; but what difference does it make to a modern 
Westerner whether there be for instance in one place a ‘gate of 
heaven’ and in another a ‘mouth of hell’, since the ‘density’ of his 
‘psycho-physiological’ constitution is such that he experiences 
nothing in particular in either the one or the other? Such things 
therefore are literally non-existent for him, but this of course by no 
means implies that they have actually ceased to exist; it is moreover 
true that, communications between the corporeal and the subtle 
domains having been more or less reduced to a minimum, in order 
to become aware of such things, a greater development than in the 
past of certain faculties is needed, and these are just the faculties 
which, so far from being developed, have on the contrary for the 
most part become continuously weaker and have ended by disap- 
pearing from the ‘average’ human individual, so that the difficulty 
and the rarity of perceptions of that order have been doubly accen- 
tuated, and this is what allows the moderns to hold the accounts of 
the ancients in derision. 

In this connection, there is one more thing to be said, concerning 
the descriptions of strange beings met with in such accounts: since 
these descriptions naturally date at the earliest from ‘classical’ antiq- 
uity, a time at which an undeniable degeneration had already taken 
place from a traditional point of view, it is quite possible that confu- 
sions of more than one kind may have crept in. For instance, one 
part of these descriptions may really be derived from ‘survivals’ of a 
symbolism no longer fully understood , 1 whereas another part may 
be related to the appearances assumed by the manifestation of cer- 
tain ‘entities’ or ‘influences’ belonging to the subtle domain, and yet 
another, though doubtless not the most important, may really be a 
description of beings that had a corporeal existence in more or less 
remote times, but belonged to species since then extinct or having 
survived only in exceptional conditions and as great rarities, such as 

1. Pliny’s Natural History in particular seems to be an almost inexhaustible 
source of examples of things of this kind; it is moreover a source on which all those 
w ho came after him have drawn most abundantly. 


are still sometimes met with today, whatever may be the opinion of 
people who imagine that there is nothing left in the world that they 
do not know about. It can be seen that in order to discern what lies 
at the bottom of all this, a fairly long and difficult piece of work 
would have to be undertaken, all the more so because the ‘sources’ 
available are far from providing uncontaminated traditional data; it 
is obviously much simpler and more convenient to discard the 
whole lot en bloc as the moderns do; they would anyhow not under- 
stand the truly traditional data themselves any better than those 
that are contaminated and would still see in them only indecipher- 
able enigmas, and they will naturally adhere to this negative attitude 
until some new changes in the ‘face of the world’ come to destroy 
once and for all their deceptive security. 



Now that a few ‘illustrations’ have been given of what has 
been called the ‘solidification’ of the world, there remains the ques- 
tion of its representation in geometrical symbolism, wherein it can 
be figured as a gradual transition from sphere to cube. Indeed, to 
begin with, the sphere is intrinsically the primordial form, because 
it is the least ‘specified’ of all, similar to itself in every direction, in 
such a way that in any rotatory movement about its center, all its 
successive positions are strictly superimposable one on another . 1 
The sphere, then, can be said to be the most universal form of all, 
containing in a certain sense all other forms, which will emerge 
from it by means of differentiations taking place in certain particu- 
lar directions; and that is why the spherical form is, in all traditions, 
that of the ‘Egg of the World’, in other words, the form of that which 
represents the ‘global’ integrality, in their first and ‘embryonic’ state, 
of all the possibilities that will be developed in the course of a cycle 
of manifestation . 2 It is as well to note in addition that this first state, 
so far as our world is concerned, belongs properly to the domain of 
subtle manifestation, inasmuch as the latter necessarily precedes 
gross manifestation and is its immediate principle. This is why the 

1. See The Symbolism of the Cross, chaps. 6 and 20 . 

2. This same form reappears at the beginning of the embryonic existence of 
every individual comprised in that cyclical development, the individual embryo 
{pinda ) being the microcosmic analogy of what the ‘Egg of the World’ ( Brah - 
manda) is in the macrocosmic order. 


form of the perfect sphere, or that of the circle corresponding to it 
in plane geometry (as a section of the sphere by a given directional 
plane) is in fact never realized in the corporeal world . 3 

On the other hand, the cube is opposed to the sphere as being the 
most ‘arrested’ form of all, if it can be so expressed; this means that 
it corresponds to a maximum of ‘specification’. The cube is also the 
form that is related to the earth as one of the elements, inasmuch as 
the earth is the ‘terminating and final element’ of manifestation in 
the corporeal state ; 4 and consequently it corresponds also to the 
end of the cycle of manifestation, or to what has been called the 
‘stopping-point’ of the cyclical movement. This form is thus in a 
sense above all that of the ‘solid ’, 5 and it symbolizes ‘stability’ insofar 
as this implies the stoppage of all movement; and it is evident that 
the equilibrium of a cube resting on one of its faces is in fact more 
stable than that of any other body. It is important to note that this 
stability, coming at the end of the descending movement, is not and 
cannot be anything but an unqualified immobility, of which the 
nearest representation in the corporeal world is afforded by the 
minerals; and this immobility, if it could be entirely realized, would 
really be the inverted reflection at the lowest point of the principial 
immutability of the highest point. Immobility or stability thus 
understood, and represented by the cube, is therefore related to the 
substantial pole of manifestation, just as immutability, in which all 

3. The movement of the celestial bodies can be given as an example. It is not 
exactly circular, but elliptical; the ellipse constitutes as it were a first ‘specification’ 
of the circle, by the splitting of the center into two poles or ‘foci’ in the direction of 
one of the diameters, which thereafter plays a special ‘axial’ part, while at the same 
time all the other diameters are differentiated one from another in respect of their 
lengths. It may be added incidentally in this connection that, since the planets 
describe ellipses of which the sun occupies one of the foci, the question arises as to 
what the other focus corresponds to; as there is nothing corporeal actually there, 
there must be something belonging only to the subtle order; but that question can- 
not be further examined here, as it would be quite outside our subject. 

4. See Fabre d’Olivet, The Hebraic Tongue Restored and The True Meaning of the 
Hebrew Words Re-established and Proved by their Radical Analysis, (York Beach, ME: 
Samuel Weiser, 1981). 

5. The point is not that earth as an element is assimilated simply and solely to 
the solid state, as some people wrongly think, but that it is rather the very principle 
of solidity. 


possibilities are comprehended in the global’ state represented by 
the sphere, is related to the essential pole ; 6 and this is why the cube 
also symbolizes the idea of ‘base’ or ‘foundation’ which again corre- 
sponds to the substantial pole . 7 Attention must also be drawn to the 
fact that the faces of a cube can be considered as being oriented in 
opposite pairs corresponding to the three dimensions of space, in 
other words as parallel to the three planes determined by the axes 
forming the system of coordinates to which that space is related and 
which allows of its being ‘measured’, that is, of its being effectively 
realized in its integrality. It has been explained elsewhere that the 
three axes forming the three-dimensional cross must be looked 
upon as being traced through the center of a sphere that fills the 
whole of space by its indefinite expansion (the three planes deter- 
mined by these axes also necessarily passing through the same cen- 
ter, which is the ‘origin’ of the whole system of coordinates), and 
this establishes the relation that exists between the two extreme 
forms, sphere and cube, a relation in which what was interior and 
central in the sphere is so to speak ‘turned inside out’ to become the 
surface or the exteriority of the cube . 8 

The cube also represents the earth in all the traditional meanings 
of that word, that is, not only the earth as a corporeal element in the 

6. This is why the spherical form is attributed in the Islamic tradition to the 
‘Spirit’ ( ar-Ruh ) or to the primordial Light. 

7. In the Hebrew Kabbalah the cubic form corresponds to Iesod, one of the 
Sephiroth, and Iesod is in fact the ‘foundation’ (and if it be objected in this connec- 
tion that Iesod is nevertheless not the last Sephirah , the answer must be that the 
only one that follows it is Malkuth, which is actually the final ‘synthesization’ in 
which all things are brought back to a state corresponding, at another level, to the 
principial unity of Kether); in the subtle constitution of the human individuality, 
according to the Hindu tradition, the same form is related to the ‘basic’ chakra or 
fnuladhara ; and this is also connected with the mysteries of the Ka'bah in the 
Islamic tradition; also, in architectural symbolism, the cube is properly the form of 
the ‘first stone’ of a building, otherwise of the ‘foundation-stone’, laid at the lowest 
level, to serve as support for the whole structure of the building, thus assuring its 

8. In plane geometry a similar relation is obviously found when the sides of the 
square are considered as being parallel to two rectangular diameters of the circle, 
^d the symbolism of this relation is directly connected with what the Hermetic 
tradition calls the ‘quadrature of the circle’, about which a few words will be said 
later on. 


sense in which it was mentioned above, but also as a principle of a 
much more universal order, the principle designated in the Far- 
Eastern tradition as Earth (77) in correlation with Heaven ( T’ien ). 
Spherical or circular forms are related to Heaven, cubic or square 
forms to Earth; since these two complementary terms are the equiv- 
alents of Purusha and Prakriti in the Hindu doctrine, which means 
that they are simply another expression for essence and substance 
taken in their universal meaning, exactly the same conclusion as 
before is arrived at in this instance. It is also evident that, like the 
conceptions of essence and substance, the same symbolism is always 
susceptible of application at different levels, that is to say either to 
the principles of a particular state of existence, or to the integrality 
of universal manifestation. Not only are these two geometrical 
forms related to Heaven and to Earth, but so also are the instru- 
ments used to draw them, namely, the compass and the square, and 
this is so in the symbolism of the Far-Eastern tradition as well as in 
that of Western initiatic traditions; 9 and the different correspon- 
dences of these two forms give rise in different circumstances to 
multiple symbolical and ritual applications. 10 

Another case in which the relation of these same geometrical 
forms is in evidence is that of the symbolism of the ‘Terrestrial Para- 
dise’ and of the ‘Heavenly Jerusalem’, to which reference has already 
been made elsewhere; 11 and this case is specially important from the 
point of view adopted in this book, since the symbolism in question 
is in fact concerned with the two extremities of the present cycle. 

9. In certain symbolical representations the compass and the square respec- 
tively are placed in the hands of Fu Hsi and his sister Niu-koua, just as, in the 
alchemical figures of Basil Valentine, they are placed in the hands of the two halves, 
masculine and feminine, of the Rebis or Hermetic Androgyne; this shows that Fu 
Hsi and Niu-koua are in a sense analogically assimilated, as regards their respective 
functions, to the essential or masculine principle and to the substantial or feminine 
principle of manifestation. 

10. Thus, for example, the ritual garments of the ancient sovereigns in China 
had to be round in shape at the top and square at the bottom; the sovereign then 
represented the type of man himself {Jen) in his cosmic function, as the third term 
of the ‘Great Triad’, exercising that function as intermediary between Heaven and 
Earth, and uniting in himself the powers of both. 

1 1. See The King of the World, also The Symbolism of the Cross, chap. 9. 


Now the form of the ‘Terrestrial Paradise’, corresponding to the 
beginning of the cycle, is circular, whereas that of the ‘Heavenly 
Jerusalem’, corresponding to its end, is square ; 12 and the circular 
boundary of the ‘Terrestrial Paradise’ is none other than the hori- 
zontal section of the ‘Egg of the World’, that is of the universal and 
primordial spherical form . 13 It could be said that this circle itself is 
finally changed into a square, since the two extremities must join, or 
rather (the cycle never being really closed, for that would imply an 
impossible repetition) they must correspond exactly; the presence 
of the same ‘Tree of Life’ in the center in each case shows clearly that 
it is only actually a question of two states of one and the same thing, 
the square here representing the accomplishment of the possibilities 
of the cycle, which were in a germinal condition in the circular 
‘organic girdle’ of the beginning, and are subsequently fixed and sta- 
bilized in a state of definition so to speak, at least in relation to the 
particular cycle concerned. This final result can also be represented 
as a ‘crystallization’, again showing affinity with the cubic form (or 
the square in the plane section): it becomes a ‘city’ with a mineral 
symbolism, whereas at the beginning there was a ‘garden’ with a 
vegetable symbolism, vegetation representing the elaboration of the 
germs in the sphere of vital assimilation . 14 Reference was made 
above to the immobility of minerals as being an image of the final 
state toward which the ‘solidification’ of the world is tending: but it 

12. If this is compared with the correspondences previously pointed out, it 
might appear that there had been an inversion in the use of the two words ‘Heav- 
enly’ and ‘Terrestrial’ and there is in fact a discrepancy, except in the following par- 
ticular connection: at the beginning of the cycle, this world was not such as it is 
now, and the ‘Terrestrial Paradise’ constituted the direct projection, at that time 
visibly manifested, of the specifically celestial and principial form (it was besides 
situated in a sense at the confines of heaven and earth, since it is said that it touched 
the ‘sphere of the Moon’, that is, the ‘first heaven’); at the end of the cycle, the 
Heavenly Jerusalem’ descends from heaven to earth, and it is only at the end of that 
descent that it appears in the form of a square, because then the cyclic movement 
has come to a stop. 

13. It is worth noting that this circle is divided up by the cross formed by the 
four rivers which rise at its center, thus giving exactly the figure alluded to when the 
relation of the circle and the square was being dealt with. 

14. See The Esoterism of Dante. 


is as well to add that in considering the ‘Heavenly Jerusalem’ the 
mineral has been regarded as already being in a ‘transformed’ or 
‘sublimated’ state, for it figures as precious stones in the description 
of that City; that is why the fixation is only final with respect to the 
present cycle, and beyond the ‘stopping-point’ the same ‘Heavenly 
Jerusalem’ must, by virtue of the causal linkage that admits of no 
actual discontinuity, become the ‘Terrestrial Paradise’ of the future 
cycle, the end of the one and the beginning of the other being actu- 
ally one and the same moment viewed from two opposite sides . 15 

It is nonetheless true that, if consideration is confined to the 
present cycle, a moment finally arrives at which ‘the wheel stops 
turning’, and here, as always, the symbolism is perfectly coherent: 
for a wheel is circular in shape, and if it were to get out of shape in 
such a way as to end by being square, it is obvious that it could not 
do otherwise than stop. This is why the moment in question appears 
as an ‘end of time’; it is then, according to the Hindu tradition, that 
the ‘twelve suns’ will shine simultaneously, for time is in fact mea- 
sured by the passage of the sun through the twelve signs of the 
zodiac, making the annual cycle, and when the rotation is stopped, 
the twelve corresponding aspects will so to speak be merged into 
one, thus returning into the essential and primordial unity of their 
common nature, since they do not differ except in their relation to 
universal manifestation, which will then be at an end . 16 Moreover, 
the changing of the circle into an equivalent square 17 is also what is 
known as the ‘squaring of the circle’; those who declare that this is 

15. This moment is also represented as that of the ‘reversal of the poles’ or as 
the day when ‘the stars will rise in the West and set in the East’, for a rotational 
movement appears to take place in two opposite directions according as it is 
looked at from one side or the other, though it is really always the same continuous 
movement, but seen from another point of view, corresponding to the course of a 
new cycle. 

16. See The King of the World. The twelve signs of the zodiac, instead of being 
arranged in a circle, become the twelve gates of the ‘Heavenly Jerusalem’, three 
being placed on each side of the square, aqd the ‘twelve suns’ appear in the center of 
the ‘city’ as the twelve fruits of the ‘Tree of Life’. 

17. That is, a square of the same surface area, if a quantitative point of view is 
adopted; but this is merely a wholly exteriorized expression of what is really in 


an insoluble problem, though they be wholly unaware of its symbol- 
ical significance, are thus right in fact, since the ‘squaring’ under- 
stood in its true sense cannot be realized until the end of the cycle . 18 

A consequence of all this is that the solidification of the world 
appears to some extent to have a double meaning: considered in 
itself and from within the cycle as being a consequence of a move- 
ment leading down toward quantity and ‘materiality’, it evidently 
has an ‘unfavorable’ significance, even a ‘sinister’ one, opposed to 
spirituality; but, in another aspect, it is nonetheless necessary in 
order to prepare, though it be in a manner that could be called ‘neg- 
ative’, the ultimate fixation of the results of the cycle in the form of 
the ‘Heavenly Jerusalem’, where these results will at once become the 
germs of the possibilities of the future cycle. Nevertheless, it goes 
without saying that in the final fixation itself, and in order that it 
may indeed become a restoration of the ‘primordial state’, the 
immediate intervention of a transcendent principle is necessary, 
otherwise nothing could be saved and the ‘cosmos’ would simply 
evaporate into ‘chaos’. It is this intervention that produces the final 
‘reversal’ already prefigured by the ‘transmutation’ of minerals in 
the ‘Heavenly Jerusalem’, and bringing about the reappearance of 
the ‘Terrestrial Paradise’ in the visible world, where there will there- 
after be ‘a new heaven and a new earth’, since it will be the beginning 
of another Manvantara and of the existence of another humanity. 

18. The corresponding numerical formula is that of the Pythagorean Tetraktys : 
1 + 2 + 3 + 4 = 10; if the numbers are taken in the reverse order: 4 + 3 + 2 + i, this 
gives the proportions of the four Yugas, the sum of which is the denary, that is to 
say the complete and finished cycle. 




The ‘solidification’ of the world has yet other consequences 
not mentioned hitherto in the human and social order, for it engen- 
ders therein a state of affairs in which everything is counted, 
recorded, and regulated, and this is really only another kind of 
‘mechanization’; it is only too easy nowadays to find typical 
instances anywhere, such as for example the mania for census-tak- 
ing (which is of course directly connected with the importance 
attributed to statistics), 1 and more generally, the endless multiplica- 
tion of administrative interventions in all the circumstances of life. 
These interventions must naturally have the effect of ensuring the 
most complete uniformity possible between individuals, all the 
more so because it is almost a ‘principle’ of all modern administra- 
tion to treat individuals as mere numerical units all exactly alike, 
that is, to act as if, by hypothesis, the ‘ideal’ of uniformity had 
already been realized, thus constraining all men to adjust them- 
selves, so to speak, to the same ‘average’ level. In another respect, 

1. Much could be said about the prohibitions formulated in certain traditions 
against the taking of censuses otherwise than in exceptional cases, if it were to be 
stated that such operations, like all those of the ‘civil state’ as it is called, have 
among other inconveniences that of contributing to the cutting down of the length 
of human life (and this is anyhow in conformity with the progress of the cycle, 
especially in its later periods), but the statement would simply not be believed; nev- 
ertheless, in some countries the most ignorant peasants know very well, as a fact of 
ordinary experience, that if animals are counted too often far more of them die 
than if they are not counted; but in the eyes of moderns who call themselves 
‘enlightened’ such things cannot be anything but ‘superstitions’. 


this ever more inordinate regulation has a highly paradoxical conse- 
quence, and it is this: the growing rapidity and ease of communica- 
tion between the most distant countries, thanks to the inventions of 
modern industry, are matters of pride, yet at the same time every 
possible obstacle is put in the way of the freedom of these commu- 
nications, to the extent that it is often practically impossible to get 
from one country to another, and in any case it has become much 
more difficult now than it was when no mechanical means of trans- 
port existed. This is another special aspect of ‘solidification’: in such 
a world there is no longer any room for nomadic peoples such as 
formerly survived in various circumstances, for these peoples grad- 
ually come to a point at which they no longer find in front of them 
any free space; and in addition to this, all possible means are used to 
cause them to adopt a sedentary life , 2 so that in this connection also 
the time seems not to be far distant when the ‘wheel will stop turn- 
ing’; while in addition, within the sedentary life, the towns, repre- 
senting something like the final degree of ‘fixation’, take on an 
overwhelming importance and tend more and more to absorb 
everything else ; 3 this is how it comes about that, toward the end of 
the cycle, Cain really and finally slays Abel. 

Cain is represented in Biblical symbolism as being primarily a 
farmer and Abel as a stockmaster, thus they are the types of the two 
sorts of peoples who have existed since the origins of the present 
humanity, or at least since the earliest differentiation took place, 
namely that between the sedentary peoples, devoted to the cultiva- 
tion of the soil, and the nomads, devoted to the raising of flocks and 
herds . 4 It must be emphasized that these two occupations are essen- 
tial and primordial in the two human types; anything else is only 

2. Two particularly significant examples may be cited here: the ‘Zionist’ projects 
as they affect the Jews, and the attempts recently made to fix the Bohemians in cer- 
tain countries of Eastern Europe. 

3. It must be recalled in this connection that the ‘Heavenly Jerusalem’ itself is 
symbolically a town, which shows that in this case also there is reason to take 
account of a double meaning in ‘solidification’. 

4. It may be added that, as Cain is said to be the elder, agriculture therefore 
appears to have some kind of anteriority, indeed Adam himself is represented as hav- 
mg had the function of ‘cultivating the garden’ in the period before the fall. This is 


accidental, derived, or superadded, and to speak of people as hunt- 
ers or fishers for example, as modern ethnologists so often do, is 
either to mistake the accidental for the essential, or it is to restrict 
attention to more or less late cases of anomaly or degeneration, such 
as can be met with in certain savages (but the mainly commercial or 
industrial peoples of the modern West are by no means less abnor- 
mal, though in another way ). 5 Each of these two categories naturally 
had its own traditional law, different from that of the other, and 
adapted to its way of life and the nature of its occupations; this 
difference was particularly apparent in the sacrificial rites, hence the 
special mention made of the vegetable offerings of Cain and the ani- 
mal offerings of Abel in the account given in Genesis . 6 As Biblical 
symbolism in particular is now being considered, it is as well to note 
at once in that connection that the Hebrew Torah belongs properly 
to the type of law appropriate to nomadic peoples. Hence the way in 
which the story of Cain and Abel is presented, for it would appear in 
a different light in the eyes of a sedentary people and would be sus- 
ceptible of a different interpretation, although the aspects corre- 
sponding to the two points of view are of course both included in 
the profound meaning of the story; this is nothing more than an 

also related more particularly to the vegetable symbolism in the representation of 
the beginning of the cycle (hence there was a symbolical and even an initiatic ‘agri- 
culture’, the very same as that which Saturn was said by the Latins to have taught to 
the men of the ‘Golden Age’); but however that may be, all we have to consider here 
is the state of affairs symbolized by the opposition (which is at the same time a 
complementarism) between Cain and Abel, arising when the distinction between 
agricultural and pastoral peoples was already an established fact. 

5. The names Iran and Turan have frequently been treated as if they were the 
names of races, but they really represented the sedentary and the nomadic peoples 
respectively; Iran or Air yam comes from the word ary a (whence dry a by exten- 
sion), meaning ‘laborer’ (derived from the root ar, found again in the Latin arare, 
arator and also arvum, ‘field’); and the use of the word arya as a title of honor (for 
the superior castes) is consequently characteristic of the tradition of agricultural 

6. On the very special importance o( the sacrifice and of the rites connected 
with it in the different traditional forms, see Frithjof Schuon, ‘On Sacrifice’, in The 
Eye of the Heart (Bloomington, IN: World Wisdom Books, 1997), and A.K. Cooma- 
raswamy, ‘ Atmayajha : Self-Sacrifice’, in The Door in the Sky: Coomaraswamy on 
Myth and Meaning (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1997), chap. 4. 


application of the double meaning of symbols, to which some allu- 
sion was made in connection with ‘solidification, since this ques- 
tion, as will perhaps appear more clearly from what follows, is 
closely bound up with the symbolism of the murder of Abel by 
Cain. The special character of the Hebrew tradition is also responsi- 
ble for the disapproval that is brought to bear on certain arts and 
certain trades specially appropriate to sedentary peoples, notably on 
everything connected with the construction of fixed dwellings; at 
any rate that was the state of affairs until the time when Israel actu- 
ally ceased, at least for several centuries, to be nomadic, that is, up to 
the time of David and Solomon, and we know that it was even then 
necessary to resort to foreign workers for the building of the Temple 
in Jerusalem . 7 

The agricultural peoples, just because they are sedentary, are nat- 
urally those who arrive sooner or later at the building of towns; 
indeed, it is said that the first town was founded by Cain himself; 
moreover its foundation did not take place till well after the time 
during which he is said to have been occupied in agriculture, which 
shows clearly that there are as it were two successive phases in ‘sed- 
entarism’, the second representing a relatively more pronounced 
degree of fixity and spatial ‘constriction’ than the first. It could be 
said in a general way that the works of sedentary peoples are works 
of time: these peoples are fixed in space within a strictly limited 
domain, and develop their activities in a temporal continuity that 
appears to them to be indefinite. On the other hand, nomadic and 
pastoral peoples build nothing durable, and do not work for a 
future that escapes them; but they have space before them, not fac- 
ing them with any limitation, but on the contrary always offering 
them new possibilities. In this way is revealed the correspondence of 
the cosmic principles to which, in another order, the symbolism of 
Cain and Abel is related: the principle of compression, represented 
by time, and the principle of expansion, represented by space . 8 In 

7. The fixation of the Hebrew people was essentially dependent on the existence 
of the Temple in Jerusalem; as soon as the Temple was destroyed nomadism reap- 
peared in the special form of the ‘dispersion’. 

8. Fabre d’Olivet’s works may be consulted on this cosmological interpretation. 


actual fact, both these two principles are manifested simultaneously 
in time and in space, as in everything else; it is necessary to point 
this out in order to avoid unduly ‘simplified’ identifications or 
assimilations, as well as to resolve occasional apparent oppositions; 
but it is no less certain that the action of the principle of compres- 
sion predominates in the temporal condition, and of expansion in 
the spatial condition. Moreover, time uses up space, if it may be put 
so; and correspondingly in the course of the ages the sedentary peo- 
ples gradually absorb the nomads; this gives, as indicated above, a 
social and historical significance to the murder of Abel by Cain. 

Nomads direct their activities particularly to the animal king- 
dom, mobile like themselves; sedentary peoples on the other hand 
direct them in the first place to the two non-mobile kingdoms, the 
vegetable and the mineral . 9 Furthermore, it is in the nature of things 
that sedentary peoples should tend to the making of visual symbols, 
images made up of various substances, and these images can always 
be related back, in their essential significance, more or less directly 
to the geometrical viewpoint, the origin and foundation of all spa- 
tial conception. Nomads, on the other hand, to whom images are 
forbidden, like everything else that might tend to attach them to 
some definite place, make sonorous symbols, the only symbols 
compatible with their state of continual migration . 10 It is, however, 
remarkable that, among the sensible faculties, sight is directly 
related to space, and hearing to time: the elements of the visual sym- 
bol occur simultaneously, and those of the sonorous symbol in 
succession; so that there is in this respect a kind of reversal of the 

9. The use of the mineral elements includes more especially building and met- 
allurgy; the latter will be further considered later; Biblical symbolism attributes its 
origin to Tubalcain, that is, to a direct descendant of Cain, and Cain’s very name 
reappears as a constituent in the formation of his descendant’s name, indicating 
that there is a very close connection between the two. 

10. The distinction between these two fundamental categories of symbols is, in 
the Hindu tradition, that between th&yantra, a figured symbol, and the mantra, a 
sonorous symbol; it naturally carries with it a corresponding distinction in the rites 
in which these symbolical elements are respectively used, though there is not 
always such a clear separation as can be conceived theoretically; in fact, every com- 
bination of the two in different proportions is possible. 


relations previously considered: but this reversal is in fact necessary 
so that some equilibrium may be established between the two con- 
trary principles mentioned above, and so that their respective 
actions may be kept within limits compatible with normal human 
existence. Thus the sedentary peoples create the plastic arts (archi- 
tecture, sculpture, painting), the arts consisting of forms developed 
in space; the nomads create the phonetic arts (music, poetry), the 
arts consisting of forms unfolded in time; for, let us say it again, all 
art is in its origin essentially symbolical and ritual, and only through 
a late degeneration, indeed a very recent degeneration, has it lost its 
sacred character so as to become at last the purely profane ‘recre- 
ation to which it has been reduced among our contemporaries . 11 

Thus the complementarism of the conditions of existence is 
manifested in the following way: those who work for time are stabi- 
lized in space; those who wander in space are ceaselessly modified 
within time. And the antinomy of the ‘inverse sense’ appears as fol- 
lows: those who live according to time, the changing and destroying 
element, fix and conserve themselves; those who live according to 
space, the fixed and permanent element, disperse themselves and 
change unceasingly. This must be so in order that the existence of 
each may remain possible, for in this way at least a relative equilib- 
rium is established between the terms representing the two contrary 
tendencies; if only one or the other of the compressive and expan- 
sive tendencies were in action the end would come soon, either by 
‘crystallization’ or by ‘volatilization’, if it be allowable to use sym- 
bolical expressions in this connection such as must recall the ‘coag- 
ulation’ and ‘solution’ of the alchemists; moreover these expressions 
do actually correspond to two phases in the present world of which 
the exact significance will be explained later . 12 Here indeed we find 

11. It is scarcely necessary to observe that, in all the considerations now under 
examination, the correlative and in a way symmetrical character of the spatial and 
the temporal conditions, seen under their qualitative aspect, becomes clearly 

12. This is why nomadism, in its ‘malefic’ and deviated aspect, easily comes to 
exercise a ‘dissolving’ action on everything with which it comes into contact; seden- 
tansm on its side, and under the same aspect, must inevitably lead only toward the 
grossest forms of an aimless materialism. 


ourselves in a domain where all the consequences of the cosmic 
dualities show themselves with special clarity, those dualities being 
more or less distant images or reflections of the primary duality, 
that of essence and substance, of Heaven and Earth, or Purusha and 
Prakriti , which generates and rules all manifestation. 

To return to Biblical symbolism, the animal sacrifice is fatal to 
Abel , 13 and the vegetable offering of Cain was not accepted ; 14 he 
who is blessed dies, he who lives is accursed. Equilibrium is thus 
broken on both sides; how can it be re-established except by 
exchanges such that each has its part in the productions of the 
other? Thus it is that movement brings together time and space, 
being in a way a resultant of their combination, and reconciles in 
them the two opposed tendencies just mentioned ; 15 movement 
itself is moreover only a series of disequilibria, but the sum of these 
constitutes a relative equilibrium compatible with the law of mani- 
festation or of ‘becoming’, that is to say with contingent existence 
itself. Every exchange between beings subject to spatial and tempo- 
ral conditions is in effect a movement, or rather a combination of 
two inverse and reciprocal movements, which harmonize and com- 
pensate one another; in this case equilibrium is realized directly by 

13. As Abel shed the blood of animals, his blood was shed by Cain; this is as it 
were an expression of a ‘law of compensation’ by virtue of which the partial dise- 
quilibria, in which the whole of manifestation consists fundamentally, are inte- 
grated in the total equilibrium. 

14. It is important to note that the Hebrew Bible nevertheless admits the valid- 
ity of the bloodless sacrifice considered in itself: as in the case of the sacrifice of 
Melchizedek, consisting in the essentially vegetable offering of bread and wine; but 
this is really connected with the rite of the Vedic Soma and the direct perpetuation 
of the Hebraic and ‘Abrahamic’ tradition and even much further back, to a period 
before the laws of the sedentary and nomadic peoples were distinguished; this 
again recalls the association of a vegetable symbolism with the ‘Terrestrial Paradise’, 
that is, with the ‘primordial state’ of our humanity. The acceptance of the sacrifice 
of Abel and the rejection of that of Cain are sometimes pictured in rather a curious 
symbolical way: the smoke of the former rises vertically toward the sky, whereas the 
smoke of the latter spreads horizon tally v over the surface of the earth; thus they 
trace respectively the altitude and the base of a triangle representing the domain of 
human manifestation. 

15. These two tendencies are again manifested in movement itself, in the form 
of centripetal and centrifugal movement respectively. 


virtue of the fact that this compensation exists . 16 The alternating 
inovement of the exchanges may impinge on the three domains, 
spiritual (or pure intellectual), psychic, and corporeal, correspond- 
ing to the ‘three worlds’: the exchange of principles, of symbols, and 
of offerings— such is the triple foundation, in the true traditional 
history of terrestrial humanity, on which rests the mystery of pacts, 
alliances, and benedictions, basically equivalent to the sharing out 
of the ‘spiritual influences’ at work in our world; but these last con- 
siderations cannot be dwelt on, for they obviously belong to a nor- 
mal state of affairs from which we are now very far removed in all 
respects, a state of which the modern world as such is in truth no 
more than the simple and direct negation . 17 

16. Equilibrium, harmony, and justice are really but three forms or aspects of 
one and the same thing; they could even in a certain sense be brought respectively 
into correspondence with the three domains shortly to be referred to, on condition 
of course that justice be taken in its most immediate meaning, of which in the 
modern world mere ‘honesty in commercial transactions represents an expression, 
diminished and degraded by the reduction of all things to the profane point of view 
and the narrow banality of ‘ordinary life’. 

17. The intervention of the spiritual authority in the matter of money in tradi- 
tional civilizations is directly connected with what has just been said: indeed 
money itself is in a certain sense the very embodiment of exchange, hence a much 
more exact idea can be formed of the real purpose of the symbols that it bore and 
that therefore circulated with it, for they gave to exchange a significance quite other 
than is contained in its mere ‘materiality’, though this last is all that it retains under 
the profane conditions that govern the relations of peoples, no less than those of 
individuals, in the modern world. 



We have seen that the arts or crafts that involve a direc- 
tion of activity toward the mineral kingdom belong properly to the 
sedentary peoples, and that such activities were forbidden by the 
traditional laws of the nomadic peoples, of which the Hebrew law is 
the most generally known example; it is indeed evident that these 
arts tend toward ‘solidification’, and in the corporeal world as we 
know it ‘solidification’ in fact reaches its most pronounced form in 
minerals as such. Moreover, minerals, in their commonest form, 
that of stone, are principally used in the construction of stable 
buildings ; 1 a town, considered as the collectivity of the buildings of 
which it is made up, appears in particular as something like an arti- 
ficial agglomeration of minerals; and it must be reiterated that life 
in towns represents a more complete sedentarism than does agri- 
cultural life, just as the mineral is more fixed and more ‘solid’ than 
the vegetable. But there is something more: the arts applied to min- 
erals include metallurgy in all its forms; now the evident fact that 
metal tends increasingly in these days to be substituted for stone in 
building, just as stone was formerly substituted for wood, leads to 
a supposition that this change must be a symptom of a more 
‘advanced’ phase in the downward movement of the cycle; and this 
supposition is confirmed by the fact that in a general way metal 

1. It is true that among many peoples the buildings of most ancient date were of 
wood, but such buildings were obviously not so durable, and consequently not so 
fixed, as stone buildings; the use of minerals in building thus always implies a 
greater degree of ‘solidity’ in every sense of the word. 


plays an ever-growing part in the ‘industrialized’ and ‘mechanized’ 
civilization of today, and that from a destructive point of view, if it 
may be so expressed, no less than from a constructive point of view, 
for the consumption of metal brought about by modern wars is 
truly prodigious. 

This observation moreover is in accord with a peculiarity met 
with in the Hebrew tradition: from the beginning of the time when 
the use of stone was allowed in special cases, such as in the building 
of an altar, it was nevertheless specified that these stones must be 
‘whole’, for ‘you shall lift up no iron tool upon them ’; 2 according to 
the precise terms of this passage, insistence is directed not so much 
to the stone being unworked as to no metal being used on it: the 
prohibition of the use of metal was thus more especially strict in the 
case of anything intended to be put to a specifically ritual use . 3 
Traces of this prohibition still persisted even when Israel had ceased 
to be nomadic and had built, or caused to be built, stable edifices: 
when the Temple of Jerusalem was built the stone was ‘prepared at 
the quarry; so that neither hammer nor ax nor any tool of iron was 
heard in the temple, while it was being built .’ 4 There is nothing at all 
exceptional in this, and a mass of concordant indications of the 
same kind could be found: for instance, in many countries a sort of 
partial exclusion from the community, or at least a ‘holding aloof’, 
was practiced and even still is practiced so far as metal-workers are 
concerned, and more particularly blacksmiths, whose craft is often 
associated with the practice of an inferior and dangerous kind of 
magic, which has eventually degenerated in most cases into mere 
sorcery. Nevertheless, on the other side, metallurgy has been spe- 
cially revered in some traditional forms, and has even served as the 

2 . Deut. 27:5-6. 

3 . Hence the continuing employment of stone knives for the rite of circumci- 
sion as well. 

4 . 1 Kings 6:7. Nevertheless the Temple of Jerusalem held a large quantity of 
metallic objects, but their employment is connected with the other aspect of the 
symbolism of metals, which is twofold, as we shall see presently: it seems moreover 
that the prohibition ended by being to some extent ‘localized’, mainly against the 
use of iron, and iron is the very metal of all others that plays the predominant part 
in modern times. 

154 the reign of quantity 

basis of very important initiatic organizations; it must suffice to 
quote in this connection the instance of the Kabiric Mysteries, with- 
out dwelling longer at this point on a very complex subject that 
would lead much too far afield; all that need be said for the moment 
is that metallurgy has both a ‘sacred’ aspect and an ‘execrated’ 
aspect, and that in their origin these two aspects proceed from a 
twofold symbolism inherent in the metals themselves. 

If this is to be understood, it must be remembered in the first 
place that the metals, by reason of their astral correspondences, are 
in a certain sense the ‘planets of the lower world’; naturally therefore 
they must have, like the planets themselves, of which they can be 
said to receive and to condense the influences in the terrestrial envi- 
ronment, a ‘benefic’ aspect and a ‘malefic’ aspect . 5 Furthermore, 
since an inferior reflection is in question, corresponding to the 
actual situation of the metallic mines in the interior of the earth, the 
‘malefic’ aspect must readily become predominant; and it must not 
be forgotten that from the traditional point of view metals and met- 
allurgy are in direct relation with the ‘subterranean fire’, the idea of 
which is associated in many respects with that of the ‘infernal 
regions ’. 6 Nonetheless, if the metallic influences are taken in their 
‘benefic’ aspect by making use of them in a manner truly ‘ritual’, in 
the most complete sense of the word, they are susceptible of ‘trans- 
mutation’ and ‘sublimation’, and are then all the more capable of 
becoming a spiritual ‘support’, since whatever is at the lowest level 
corresponds, by inverse analogy, to what is at the highest level; the 

5. In the Zoroastrian tradition it seems that the planets were envisaged almost 
exclusively as ‘malefic’; this may be the result of a point of view peculiar to that tra- 
dition, but in any case all that is known about what still remains of Zoroastrianism 
consists only of fragments so mutilated that it is not possible to form any exact 
judgment on such questions. 

6. As concerns the relationship to the ‘subterranean fire’, the obvious resem- 
blance of the name of Vulcan to that of the Biblical name Tubalcain is particularly 
significant: moreover they are both said to have been smiths; and while on the sub- 
ject of smiths it may be added that the association of their craft with the ‘infernal 
regions’ sufficiently explains what was said above about its ‘sinister’ aspect. The 
Kabires, on the other hand, while they too were smiths, had a dual aspect both 
celestial and terrestrial, bringing them into relationship both with the metals and 
the corresponding planets. 


whole mineral symbolism of alchemy is based on this very fact, and 
so is the symbolism of the ancient Kabiric initiations . 7 On the other 
hand, when nothing is in question but the profane utilization of 
metals, in view of the fact that the profane point of view as such nec- 
essarily brings with it the cutting off of all communication with 
superior principles, nothing is then left that is capable of effective 
action save the ‘malefic’ side of the metallic influences, and this will 
develop all the more strongly because it will inevitably be isolated 
from everything that could restrain it or counterbalance it; this par- 
ticular instance of an exclusively profane utilization is clearly one 
that is realized in all its fullness in the modern world . 8 

The point of view adopted so far has been mainly concerned with 
the ‘solidification’ of the world, having as its end-point nothing 
other than the ‘reign of quantity’, of which the use of metals is only 
an aspect, this being the point of view that has actually been most 
obviously manifested in all fields up to the phase at which the world 
has arrived today. But things can go further yet, and the metals, by 
virtue of the subtle influences attached to them, can also play a part 
in a later phase leading more directly to the final dissolution. Dur- 
ing the course of the period that may be called ‘materialistic’, these 
subtle influences have undoubtedly passed more or less into a latent 
state, like everything else that is outside the limits of the purely cor- 
poreal order; but this does not mean that they have ceased to exist, 
nor even that they have entirely ceased to act, though in a hidden 
manner, of which the ‘satanic’ side of ‘mechanistic’ theory and prac- 
tice, especially (but not solely) in its destructive applications, is after 
all but a manifestation, though naturally the materialists can have 

7. It should be stated that alchemy properly so called did not go beyond the 
‘intermediary world’ and held to a point of view that may be called ‘cosmological’, 
but its symbolism was nonetheless capable of being transposed so as to give it a 
truly spiritual and initiatic value. 

8. The case of money, as it stands today, can also serve as a typical example: 
deprived of everything that was able, in traditional civilizations, to make it as it 
were a vehicle of ‘spiritual influences’, not only is it now reduced to being in itself 
no more than a mere ‘material’ and quantitative emblem, but also it can no longer 
play a part that is otherwise than truly nefarious and ‘satanic’, and it is all too easy 
to see that such indeed is the part it plays in our time. 


no suspicion of the fact. These same influences then need only wait 
for a favorable opportunity to assert their activity more openly, of 
course always in the same ‘malefic’ direction, because so far as 
‘benefic’ influences are concerned the world has so to speak been 
closed to them by the profane attitude of modernity: moreover 
their opportunity may no longer be very far distant, for the instabil- 
ity that nowadays continues to increase in every domain shows 
clearly that the point corresponding to the greatest effective pre- 
dominance of ‘solidity’ and ‘materiality’ has already been passed. 

It may facilitate the understanding of what has just been said if it 
is pointed out that, according to traditional symbolism, the metals 
are in relation not only with the ‘subterranean fire’ as already indi- 
cated, but also with the ‘hidden treasure’, all these matters being 
rather closely interwoven, for reasons that cannot possibly be devel- 
oped here, but that can go some way toward explaining how it is 
that human interventions are capable of provoking, or more exactly 
of ‘releasing’, certain natural cataclysms. However that may be, all 
the ‘legends’ (using the language of today) about these ‘treasures’ 
show clearly that their ‘guardians’, who are none other than the sub- 
tle influences attached to them, are psychic ‘entities’ that it is 
extremely dangerous for anyone to approach who has not got the 
required ‘qualifications’ and does not take the necessary precau- 
tions; but what precautions could the moderns, completely ignorant 
of such matters, in fact be expected to take in this matter? They are 
all too obviously lacking in any ‘qualification’, as well as in any 
means of action in the domain in question, for it eludes them in 
consequence of the attitude they adopt toward anything and every- 
thing. True enough, they constantly boast about ‘conquering the 
forces of nature’, but they are certainly far from suspecting that 
behind these same forces, which they look upon as being exclusively 
corporeal, there is something of another order, of which the appar- 
ent forces are really but the vehicles and as it were the outward like- 
nesses; it is this other thing that might well one day revolt and finally 
turn against those who have failed to recognize it. 

It will be as well to add here incidentally a further note on some- 
thing that may perhaps seem to be only a singularity or a curiosity, 


but will furnish the occasion for some further remarks later: the 
‘guardians of the hidden treasure’, who are at the same time the 
smiths working in the ‘subterranean fire’, are represented in the 
different ‘legends’ sometimes as giants and sometimes as dwarfs. 

‘ Something of the kind is also found in the case of the Kabires, and 
: this shows that this category of symbolism is, like others, capable of 
being applied so as to relate it to a superior order; but owing to the 
conditions of our own period, it is necessary to adhere to a point of 
view from which only what may be called its ‘infernal’ aspect can be 
seen; in other words, the said conditions are no more than an 
expression of influences belonging to the inferior and ‘tenebrous’ 
side of what may be called the ‘cosmic psychism’; and, as will appear 
more clearly as this study proceeds, influences of this sort, in their 
multitudinous forms, are today actively threatening the ‘solidity’ of 
the world. 

To complete this short summary, one more point related to the 
‘malefic’ aspect of the influence of metals must be mentioned, and 
that is the frequent prohibition of the carrying of metallic objects 
while certain rites are being accomplished, both in the case of exo- 
teric rites , 9 and in the case of initiatic rites properly so called . 10 The 
character of all rules of this kind is no doubt principally symbolical, 
and from that character they derive their profound significance; but 
it is important not to lose sight of the fact that the truly traditional 
symbolism (which must on no account be confused with the false 

9. This prohibition is in force, at least in principle, notably in the Islamic rites 
of pilgrimage, though in fact it is no longer strictly observed today; furthermore, 
anyone who has accomplished these rites in their entirety, including that part of 
them that constitutes their most ‘interior’ aspect, must thenceforth abstain from all 
work involving the use of fire, and this includes more particularly the work of 
blacksmiths and metallurgists. 

10. In Western initiations this takes the form, in the ritual preparation of the 
recipient, of what is designated as the ‘stripping of metals’. It could be said that in a 

... case of this kind the metals, apart from their real power to affect adversely the 
transmission of ‘spiritual influences’, are taken as representing more or less what 
the Hebrew Kabbalah calls the ‘rinds’ or the ‘shells’ ( qlippoth ), meaning all that is 
most inferior in the subtle domain, thus constituting, if the expression be allow- 
able, the infra-corporeal ‘pit’ of our world. 


interpretations and counterfeits to which the moderns sometimes 
wrongly apply these words) 11 always has an effective meaning, and 
that its ritual applications in particular have perfectly real effects, 
although the narrowly limited faculties of modern man can rarely 
perceive them. This is not a question of vaguely ‘idealistic’ notions, 
but on the contrary concerns things of which the reality is some- 
times manifested in a more or less ‘tangible’ way; if that were not 
the case, what would be the explanation of the fact that there are 
people who, when they are in a particular spiritual state, cannot 
endure the least contact, even indirect, with metals, and that this is 
so even if the contact has been brought about without their knowl- 
edge and in conditions such that it is impossible that they should be 
aware of it through their bodily senses, thereby necessarily exclud- 
ing the psychological and over-simplified explanation of ‘auto-sug- 
gestion’? 12 It can further be stated that a contact of this kind can in 
comparable cases go so far as to produce outwardly the physiologi- 
cal effects of a real burn, and it must be admitted that such facts 
ought to provide material for reflection, if the moderns were still 
capable of anything of the kind; but the profane and materialistic 
attitude and the prejudices arising out of it have plunged them into 
an incurable blindness. 

11. Thus, those who in the first half of the nineteenth century wrote ‘histories 
of religion’ invented something to which they applied the word ‘symbolical’, which 
was a system of interpretation having only a very remote connection with true 
symbolism; as for merely literary misuses of the word ‘symbolism’, they are evi- 
dently not worth the trouble of mentioning. 

12. The case of Shri Ramakrishna can be cited as a known example. 



In an earlier chapter it was stated that in a certain sense time 
consumes space, and that it does so in consequence of the power of 
contraction contained in it, which tends continuously to reduce the 
spatial expansion to which it is opposed: but time, in its active 
opposition to the antagonistic principle, unfolds itself with ever- 
growing speed, for it is far from being homogenous, as people who 
consider it solely from a quantitative point of view imagine, but on 
the contrary it is ‘qualified’ at every moment in a different way by 
the cyclical conditions of the manifestation to which it belongs. The 
acceleration of time is becoming more apparent than ever in our 
day, because it becomes exaggerated in the final periods of a cycle, 
but it nevertheless actually goes on constantly from the beginning 
of the cycle to the end: it can therefore be said not only that time 
compresses space, but also that time is itself subject to a progressive 
contraction, appearing in the proportionate shortening of the four 
YugaSy with all that this implies, not excepting the corresponding 
diminution in the length of human life. It is sometimes said, doubt- 
less without any understanding of the real reason, that today men 
live faster than in the past, and this is literally true; the haste with 
which the moderns characteristically approach everything they do 
being ultimately only a consequence of the confused impressions 
they experience. 

If carried to its extreme limit the contraction of time would in the 
end reduce it to a single instant, and then duration would really 
have ceased to exist, for it is evident that there can no longer be any 


succession within the instant. Thus it is that ‘time the devourer ends 
by devouring itself’, in such a way that, at the ‘end of the world’, that 
is to say at the extreme limit of cyclical manifestation, ‘there will be 
no more time’; this is also why it is said that ‘death is the last being 
to die’, for wherever there is no succession of any kind death is no 
longer possible . 1 As soon as succession has come to an end, or, in 
symbolical terms, ‘the wheel has ceased to turn’, all that exists can- 
not but be in perfect simultaneity; succession is thus as it were 
transformed into simultaneity, and this can also be expressed by 
saying that ‘time has been changed into space ’. 2 Thus a ‘reversal’ 
takes place at the last, to the disadvantage of time and to the advan- 
tage of space: at the very moment when time seemed on the point of 
finally devouring space, space in its turn absorbs time; and this, in 
terms of the cosmological meaning of the Biblical symbolism, can 
be said to be the final revenge of Abel on Cain. 

There is a sort of ‘prefiguration’ of the absorption of time by 
space, of which its authors are no doubt quite unconscious, in the 
recent physico-mathematical theories that treat the ‘space-time’ 
complex as a single and indivisible whole, these theories inciden- 
tally usually being interpreted inaccurately, when they are regarded 
as treating time as if it were a ‘fourth dimension’ of space. It would 
be more correct to say that time is treated as being comparable to a 
‘fourth dimension’ only in the sense that in equations of movement 
it plays the part of a fourth coordinate added to the three represent- 
ing the three dimensions of space; and it is important to note that 
this implies the geometrical representation of time in a rectilinear 

1. Nevertheless, since Yama is designated in Hindu tradition as the ‘first death", 
and is assimilated to ‘Death’ itself ( Mrtyu ), or, if the language of the Islamic tradi- 
tion is preferred, to the ‘Angel of Death’, it will be seen that in this as in so many 
other cases the ‘first’ and the ‘last’ meet and become more or less identified through 
the correspondence between the two extremities of the cycle. 

2. Wagner wrote in Parsifal: ‘Here, time is changed into space,’ the place 
referred to being Montsalvat, which represents the ‘center of the world’ (this point 
will be returned to shortly); there is however little likelihood that he really under- 
stood the profound meaning of the words, for he scarcely seems to deserve the rep- 
utation of being an ‘esoterist’ attributed to him by some people; everything really 
esoteric found in his works properly belongs to the ‘legends’ used by him, the 
meaning of which he all too often merely diminished. 


form, the insufficiency of which has previously been pointed out, 
though it could not be otherwise in theories so purely quantitative 
in character as those in question. But this last statement, while it 
corrects up to a certain point the ‘popular’ explanation, is neverthe- 
less still inexact. In reality, that which plays the part of a fourth 
coordinate is not time, but something that the mathematicians call 
‘imaginal time’; 3 and this expression, itself no more than a singular- 
ity of language arising from the use of an entirely ‘conventional’ 
notation, here takes on a rather unexpected significance. Indeed, to 
say that time must become ‘imaginal’ in order to become assimila- 
ble to a fourth dimension of space, is really and truly as much as to 
say that what must happen is that time should actually cease to exist 
as such, or in other words that the transmutation of time into space 
is in fact only realizable at the ‘end of the world’. 4 

The conclusion may be drawn that it is quite useless to look for 
anything that might be a ‘fourth dimension’ of space under the con- 
ditions of the present world, and this has at least the advantage that 
it cuts short all the ‘neo-spiritualist’ divagations briefly referred to 
earlier; but is it necessary also to conclude that the absorption of 
time by space must necessarily take the form of the addition of a 
supplementary dimension to space, or is that too only a ‘figure of 
speech’? All that it is possible to say about this is that when the 
expansive tendency of space is no longer opposed and restrained by 
the compressive tendency of time, then space must naturally, in one 
way or another, undergo a dilatation such as will raise its indefinity 
to a higher power; 5 but it should scarcely be necessary to add that 
this occurrence cannot be represented by any image borrowed from 
the corporeal domain. Indeed, since time is one of the determining 
conditions of corporeal existence, it is evident that its suppression is 

3. In other words, if the three coordinates of space are x, y, and z, the fourth 
coordinate is not t, which designates time, but the expression t VT. 

4. It is of interest to note that, although the ‘end of the world’ is commonly spo- 
ken of as the ‘end of time’, it is never spoken of as the ‘end of space’; this observation 
might seem insignificant to those who only see things superficially, nonetheless it is 
actually very significant. 

5. On the successive powers of the indefinite, see The Symbolism of the Cross, 
chap. 12 . 

162 the reign of quantity 

by itself sufficient to cause everything to be taken right out of the 
world; the being is then in what has been called elsewhere an extra- 
corporeal ‘prolongation’ of the same individual state of existence as 
that of which the corporeal world represents but a mere modality: 
this also serves to indicate that the end of the corporeal world is by 
no means the end of the said state of existence considered in its inte- 
grality. Furthermore, the end of a cycle such as that of the present 
humanity is really only the end of the corporeal world itself in quite 
a relative sense, and only in relation to the possibilities that have 
been included in the cycle and so have completed their development 
in corporeal mode; but in reality the corporeal world is not annihi- 
lated, but ‘transmuted’, and it immediately receives a new existence, 
because, beyond the ‘stopping-point’ corresponding to the unique 
instant at which time is no more, ‘the wheel begins to turn again for 
the accomplishment of another cycle’. 

Another important consequence arising from these consider- 
ations is that the end of the cycle as well as its beginning is ‘intem- 
poral’, and this is necessarily so because of the strict analogical 
correspondence existing between the two extreme points; thus it 
comes about that the end is in fact the restoration of the ‘primordial 
state for the humanity of the cycle in question’, and this also makes 
clear the symbolical relation of the ‘Heavenly Jerusalem’ to the ‘Ter- 
restrial Paradise’. It is also a return to the ‘center of the world’, the 
exterior manifestation of the center taking the forms, at either end 
of the cycle, of the ‘Terrestrial Paradise’ and the ‘Heavenly Jerusa- 
lem’ respectively, with the ‘axial’ tree growing in the middle of both 
the one and the other. During the whole interval between the two, 
that is, during the course of the cycle, the center is however hidden, 
becoming indeed more and more so, because humanity has moved 
gradually away from it, and this is fundamentally the real meaning 
of the ‘fall’. The conception of a movement away from the center is 
only another way of representing the descending course of the cycle, 
for the center of a state such as ours, being the point of direct com- 
munication with superior states, is at the same time the essential 
pole of existence for that state; a movement from essence toward 
substance is thus a movement from the center toward the circum- 
ference, from the interior toward the exterior, and also, as is clearly 


shown in this case by the geometrical representation, from unity 
toward multiplicity . 6 

The Pardes, inasmuch as it is the ‘center of the world’, is, accord- 
ing to the primary meaning of its Sanskrit equivalent paradesha, the 
‘supreme region’, but it is also, according to a secondary meaning of 
the same word, the ‘distant region’, ever since it has become, in the 
course of cyclical development, actually inaccessible to ordinary 
humanity. It is in fact, at least apparently, the most distant of all 
things, being situated at the ‘end of the world’ both in the spatial 
sense (the summit of the mountain of the ‘Terrestrial Paradise’ 
touching the lunar sphere) and in the temporal sense (the ‘Heavenly 
Jerusalem’ descending to the earth at the end of the cycle); neverthe- 
less, it is always in reality the nearest of all things, since it has never 
ceased to be at the center of all things , 7 and this brings out the inver- 
sion of relationship between the ‘exterior’ and ‘interior’ points of 
view. Only, in order that this proximity may be actually realized, the 
temporal condition must necessarily be suppressed, because it is the 
unfolding of time in conformity with the laws of manifestation that 
has brought about the apparent separation from the center, and also 
because time, according to the very definition of succession, cannot 
turn back on its course; release from the temporal condition is 
always possible for certain beings in particular, but as far as human- 
ity (or more exactly a humanity) taken in its entirety is concerned, a 
release from time obviously implies that the said humanity has 
passed completely through the cycle of its corporeal manifestation: 
only then can it, together with the whole of the terrestrial environ- 
ment that depends on it and participates in the same cyclic move- 
ment, be really reintegrated into the ‘primordial state’, or, what is 
the same thing, into the ‘center of the world’. This center is where 

6. Another significance of the ‘inversion of the poles’ can be deduced from this, 
since the course of the manifested world toward its substantial pole ends at last in a 
reversal’, which brings it back, by an instantaneous transmutation, to its essential 
pole; and it may be added that, in view of this instantaneity, and contrary to certain 
erroneous conceptions of the cyclical movement, there can be no ‘reascent’ of an 
exterior order following the ‘descent’, the course of manifestation as such being 
always descending from the beginning to the end. 

7, This is the Regnum Dei intra vos est of the Gospel. 

164 the reign of quantity 

‘time is changed into space’, because it is where the direct reflection 
in our state of existence of the principial eternity is found, and 
thereby all succession is excluded: moreover death cannot attain 
thereto, so that it is also the very ‘seat of immortality’; 8 all things 
appear therein in perfect simultaneity in a changeless present, 
through the power of the ‘third eye’ with which man has recovered 
the ‘sense of eternity’. 9 

8. On the ‘seat of immortality’ and what corresponds to it in the human being, 
see The King of the World. 

9. On the symbolism of the ‘third eye’, see Man and His Becoming according to 
the Vedanta and The King of the World. 




Having given some attention to the end of the cycle, it is now 
necessary as it were to turn back again, in order to examine more 
fully the causes that can, under the conditions of the present period, 
play an effective part in leading humanity and the world toward that 
end. Two contributing tendencies may be distinguished, and their 
description involves the use of terms suggesting an apparent anti- 
nomy: on one side is the tendency toward what has been called the 
‘solidification of the world, and it is this that has been mainly con- 
sidered so far, and on the other side is the tendency toward the dis- 
solution of the world, and it remains to examine in detail the action 
of the latter, for it must not be forgotten that every such end neces- 
sarily takes one form and one only, that of a dissolution of the man- 
ifested as such. Let it be said at once that the second of the two 
tendencies now seems to be beginning to predominate; for, in the 
first place, materialism properly so called, corresponding as it 
clearly does to ‘solidification’ in its grossest form (the word ‘petri- 
faction’ could almost be used, by analogy with what minerals repre- 
sent in this connection), has already lost much ground, at least in 
the domain of scientific and philosophical theory, if not yet in that 
of the common mentality; and this is so far true that, as pointed out 
earlier, the very notion of ‘matter’ as it existed in these theories has 
begun to fade away and to dissolve. In the second place, and correl- 
atively to this change, the illusion of security that held sway at the 
time when materialism had attained its greatest influence, and that 
was then more or less inseparable from the prevailing idea of ‘ordi- 
nary life’, has in the main been dissipated by the events that have 


taken place and the speed of their succession, so much so that the 
dominant impression today is very different, for it has become an 
impression of instability extending to all domains. Since ‘solidity’ 
necessarily implies stability, this again shows clearly that the point 
of greatest effective ‘solidity’ within the possibilities of our world has 
not only been reached, but has also already been passed, and conse- 
quently that dissolution is the goal toward which the world will be 
traveling henceforth. 

The acceleration of time itself, as it becomes ever more pro- 
nounced and causes changes to be ever more rapid, seems to lead of 
its own accord toward dissolution, but it cannot for that reason be 
said that the general direction of events has been modified, for the 
cyclical movement inevitably continues to follow the same descend- 
ing course. Moreover, the physical theories just referred to, while 
they too change with growing rapidity like everything else, continue 
nonetheless to take on a more and more exclusively quantitative 
character, to such a point that their character has now become 
assimilated to that of purely mathematical theories, and this change, 
as previously indicated, takes them yet further away from the sensi- 
ble reality that they claim to explain, and leads them into a domain 
that is necessarily situated on a lower plane than that of sensible 
reality, as was explained earlier when pure quantity was under con- 
sideration. In any case, the ‘solid’, even at its greatest conceivable 
density and impenetrability, by no means corresponds to pure 
quantity, having always at least a minimum of qualitative elements; 
it is moreover corporeal by definition, and is even in a sense the 
most corporeal thing possible; now ‘corporeality’ is by definition 
such that space, however ‘compressed’ it may be under the condi- 
tions appertaining to a ‘solid’, is necessarily inherent in its constitu- 
tion, and space, let it be recalled again, can in no way be assimilated 
to pure quantity. Even if the point of view of modern science were to 
be adopted momentarily, so that on the one hand ‘corporeality’ 
could be reduced to extension in accordance with Descartes’ ideas, 
and on the other hand space cduld be regarded as nothing but a 
mere mode of quantity, the difficulty still remaining would be that 
everything would be still be in the domain of continuous quantity; 


a change to the domain of discontinuous quantity, that is, of num- 
ber, which alone can be looked upon as representing pure quantity, 
must then obviously imply, by reason of the said discontinuity 
alone, that neither the ‘solid’, nor anything else that is corporeal, can 
subsequently be taken into account. 

A point is therefore reached in the gradual reduction of every- 
thing to the quantitative at which this reduction no longer leads 
toward ‘solidification’, and at this point there arises a desire to 
assimilate continuous quantity to discontinuous quantity. Bodies 
can then no longer persist as such, but are dissolved into a sort of 
‘atomic’ dust without cohesion; it would therefore be possible to 
speak of a real ‘pulverization’ of the world, and such is evidently one 
of the possible forms of cyclic dissolution . 1 Nevertheless, although 
dissolution can be envisaged in this way from a certain point of 
view, it also appears from another point of view, and in accordance 
with a mode of expression made use of earlier, as a ‘volatilization’. 
‘Pulverization’, however complete it may be imagined to be, always 
leaves ‘residues’, even though they may be really impalpable; but as 
against this, the end of the cycle, if it is to be fully accomplished, 
implies that everything that is comprised in the cycle disappears 
completely insofar as it was manifested; these two different concep- 
tions however each represent a part of the truth. Indeed, the positive 
results of cyclical manifestation are ‘crystallized’ in order that they 
may then be ‘transmuted’ into the germs of the possibilities of the 
future cycle, and this constitutes the end-point of ‘solidification’ 
under its ‘benefic’ aspect (implying essentially the ‘sublimation’ that 
coincides with the final ‘reversal’), whereas whatever cannot be used 
in this way, that is to say, broadly speaking, whatever constitutes the 
purely negative results of the particular manifestation, is ‘precipi- 
tated’ in the form of a caput mortuum in the alchemist’s sense of the 
word, into the most inferior ‘prolongations’ of our state of existence, 

1. Solvet saeclum in favilla are the exact words of the Catholic liturgy, which 
incidentally calls upon both the testimony of David and that of the Sibyl in this 
matter, and this in itself is one of the ways in which the unanimous agreement of 
the different traditions is confirmed. 


or into that part of the subtle domain that can properly be qualified 
as ‘infra-corporeal’; 2 but in either case a passage has taken place into 
extra-corporeal modalities, respectively superior and inferior, in 
such a way that it can be said that corporeal manifestation itself, so 
far as the particular cycle is concerned, has really disappeared com- 
pletely or has been ‘volatilized’. It can be seen that it is always neces- 
sary at all stages up to the very last to bear in mind the two terms 
corresponding to what are called in Hermetism coagulation’ and 
‘solution’, and to do so from two sides at once: thus on the ‘benefic’ 
side are ‘crystallization’ and ‘sublimation’, and on the ‘malefic’ side 
are ‘precipitation’ and the final return to the indistinction of ‘chaos’. 3 

At this point, the following question must be put: in order that 
dissolution may be fully realized, is it sufficient that the movement 
by which the ‘reign of quantity’ asserts itself with ever-growing 
intensity should be more or less left to itself, and be allowed to pur- 
sue its own course right up to its final goal? The truth is that such a 
possibility, which has indeed already been suggested in what has 
been said about the contemporary conceptions of the physicists and 
the implications they carry as it were unconsciously (for it is obvi- 
ous that modern ‘scientists’ have no idea where they are going), 
belongs rather to a theoretical outlook on the situation, a ‘unilateral’ 
outlook affording only a very partial view of what must really hap- 
pen. Actually, in order to undo the ‘knots’ resulting from the ‘solidi- 
fication’ that has been going on up till now (and the word ‘knots’ is 
used intentionally, as it suggests the effects of a certain kind of ‘coag- 
ulation’ particularly connected with the realm of magic) the inter- 
vention of something more directly effective for the purpose in view 
is required, and this something must no longer belong to the 
domain, the very restricted domain, to which the ‘reign of quantity’ 
itself properly belongs. It is easy to perceive, from the occasional 

2. This is what the Hebrew Kabbalah, as was pointed out earlier, calls the ‘world 
of rinds’ ( olam qlippoth); into this the ‘ancient kings of Edom’ fall, inasmuch as they 
represent the unusable residues of past Manvantaras. 

3. It should be evident that the two sides here referred to as ‘benefic’ and 
‘malefic’ correspond exactly to the ‘right’ and ‘left’ sides on which the ‘elect’ and the 
damned respectively are drawn up in the ‘Last Judgment’, which is nothing other 
than the final ‘discrimination’ of the results of cyclical manifestation. 


indications already given, that the action of influences of the subtle 
order is involved; such action really began long ago to operate in the 
modern world, although at first it did so in no very apparent man- 
ner, and it has actually always co-existed with materialism from the 
very moment at which the latter was first constituted in a clearly 
defined form, as was indicated earlier when dealing with magnetism 
and spiritualism, and the borrowings they have made from the sci- 
entific ‘mythology’ of the period in which they came to birth. As has 
also been pointed out before, though it be true that the hold of 
materialism is slackening, there is no occasion to rejoice at the fact, 
for cyclical manifestation is not yet complete, and the ‘fissures’ then 
alluded to, the nature of which will shortly receive further consider- 
ation, can only be produced from below; in other words, that which 
‘interferes’ with the sensible world through those ‘fissures’ can be 
nothing but an inferior ‘cosmic psychism’ in its most destructive 
and disorganizing forms, and it is moreover clear that influences of 
this kind are the only ones that are really suited for action having 
dissolution as its objective. It is not difficult to see that thenceforth 
everything that tends to favor and to extend these ‘interferences’ 
merely corresponds, whether consciously or otherwise, to a fresh 
phase of the deviation of which materialism in reality represented a 
less ‘advanced’ stage, even though the outward appearances of 
things may not seem to support this view, appearances often being 
highly deceptive. 

While on this subject it seems desirable to point out that ill- 
informed ‘traditionalists ’ 4 thoughtlessly rejoice at seeing modern 
science in its various branches escaping to some extent from the 
narrow limits within which its conceptions have been enclosed up 
till now, and taking an attitude less grossly materialistic than that 
maintained in the last century; they are even ready to suppose that 
in some way or another profane science will in the end be reunited 
with traditional science (of which their knowledge is minimal in 
extent and singularly inaccurate, being chiefly based on modern 

4. The word ‘traditionalism’ denotes only a tendency that may be more or less 
vague and often wrongly applied, because it does not imply any effective knowledge 
of traditional truths; this matter will again be referred to later. 


deformations and ‘counterfeits’), but this, for reasons of principle 
that have often been insisted on, is quite impossible. These same 
‘traditionalists’ also rejoice, perhaps even more unreservedly, at see- 
ing certain manifestations of subtle influences coming more and 
more into the open, but it does not occur to them to wonder what 
in the end may prove to be the true ‘quality’ of these influences (per- 
haps they do not even suspect that there is any occasion to ask such 
a question); and they base great hopes on what today is called 
‘metapsychics’ as the key to the cure of the ills of the modern world, 
which they are usually content to attribute exclusively to material- 
ism as such, this again being a rather unfortunate delusion. What 
they do not see (and in this they are much more influenced than 
they think by the modern spirit with all the insufficiencies inherent 
in it) is that they are really faced with a fresh stage in the develop- 
ment, perfectly logical but of a logic truly ‘diabolical’, of the ‘plan’ 
according to which the progressive deviation of the modern world 
is brought about. In this ‘plan’ materialism has of course played its 
part, and undeniably a highly important part, but the mere nega- 
tion that it represents has now become inadequate. It has given 
efficient service in denying to man access to possibilities of a supe- 
rior order, but it has not the power to unchain the inferior forces 
that alone can bring to finality the work of disorder and dissolution. 

The materialistic attitude, because of its inherent limitations, 
involves risks that are similarly limited; its ‘thickness’, figuratively 
speaking, protects anyone who persists in holding to it from all sub- 
tle influences without distinction, and confers on him a sort of 
immunity more or less like that of a mollusc living firmly enclosed 
in its shell, the materialist deriving from this immunity the impres- 
sion of security previously referred to. The shell may be taken to 
represent the aggregate of conventionally recognized scientific con- 
ceptions and of the corresponding mental habits, together with the 
‘hardening’ of the ‘psycho-physiological’ constitution of the individ- 
ual which they produce , 5 and if an opening is made in this shell 
from below, as described earlieis the destructive subtle influences 

5. It is of interest to note that the expression ‘hardened materialist’ is freely used 
in current speech, doubtless without any suspicion that it is no mere figure of 
speech, but actually corresponds to something very real. 


will at once make their way in, and they will do so all the more easily 
because, thanks to the negative work accomplished in the preceding 
phase, no element of a superior order will be able to intervene in 
such a way as to counteract them. It could also be said that the 
period of materialism constitutes no more than a sort of prepara- 
tion, predominantly theoretical, whereas the period of inferior psy- 
chism introduces a ‘pseudo- realization leading in exactly the 
opposite direction to that of true spiritual realization, but a fuller 
explanation of this last point must await a later chapter. The paltry 
security of ‘ordinary life’, which was the inseparable accompaniment 
of materialism, is indeed from now onward seriously threatened, 
and it will no doubt soon be seen more and more clearly, and by 
more and more people, as having been a mere delusion; but what 
advantage can this perception bring, if its sole result is an immediate 
fall into another delusion, worse and more dangerous from every 
point of view, because it involves consequences much more exten- 
sive and more profound? This other delusion is that of an ‘inverted 
spirituality’, and the various ‘neo-spiritualist’ movements that have 
arisen and reached a certain development in our times, not except- 
ing those which already show a more definitely ‘subversive’ charac- 
ter, still represent no more than a weak and tentative prelude to it. 



However far the ‘solidification’ of the sensible world may 
have gone, it can never be carried so far as to turn the world into a 
‘closed system’ such as is imagined by the materialists. The very 
nature of things sets limits to ‘solidification’, and the more nearly 
those limits are approached the more unstable is the corresponding 
state of affairs; in actual fact, as we have seen, the point correspond- 
ing to a maximum of ‘solidification’ has already been passed, and 
the impression that the world is a ‘closed system’ can only from now 
onward become more and more illusory and inadequate to the real- 
ity. ‘Fissures’ have been mentioned previously as being the paths 
whereby certain destructive forces are already entering, and must 
continue to enter ever more freely; according to traditional symbol- 
ism these ‘fissures’ occur in the ‘Great Wall’ that surrounds the 
world and protects it from the intrusion of malefic influences com- 
ing from the inferior subtle domain . 1 In order that this symbolism 
may be fully understood in all its aspects, it is important to note 
that a wall acts both as a protection and as a limitation: in a sense 
therefore it can be said to have both advantages and inconveniences; 

1. In the symbolism of the Hindu tradition the ‘Great Wall’ is the circular 
mountain Lokaloka, which divides the ‘cosmos’ (loka) from the ‘outer darkness 
( aloka ); and this symbolism is of course susceptible of analogical application either 
to more extensive or to less extensive domains within the totality of cosmic mani- 
festation, hence the special application now being made with respect to the corpo- 
real world alone. 


but insofar as its principal purpose is to ensure an adequate defence 
against attacks coming from below, the advantages are incompara- 
bly the more important, for it is on the whole more useful to any- 
one who happens to be enclosed within its perimeter to be kept out 
of reach of what is below, than it is to be continuously exposed to 
the ravages of the enemy, or worse still to a more or less complete 
destruction. In any case, a walled space as such is not closed in at 
the top, so that communication with superior domains is not pre- 
vented, and this state of affairs is the normal one; but in the modern 
period the ‘shell’ with no outlet built by materialism has cut off that 
communication. Moreover, as already explained, because the 
‘descent’ has not yet come to an end, the ‘shell’ must necessarily 
remain intact overhead, that is, in the direction of that from which 
humanity need not be protected since on the contrary only 
beneficient influences can come that way; the ‘fissures’ occur only at 
the base, and therefore in the actual protective wall itself, and the 
inferior forces that make their way in through them meet with a 
much reduced resistance because under such conditions no power 
of a superior order can intervene in order to oppose them effec- 
tively. Thus the world is exposed defenceless to all the attacks of its 
enemies, the more so because, the present-day mentality being what 
it is, the dangers that threaten it are wholly unperceived. 

In the Islamic tradition these ‘fissures’ are those by which, at the 
end of the cycle, the devastating hordes of Gog and Magog will force 
their way in , 2 for they are unremitting in their efforts to invade this 
world; these ‘entities’ represent the inferior influences in question. 
They are considered as maintaining an underground existence, and 
are described both as giants and as dwarfs; they may thus be identi- 
fied, in accordance with what was said earlier on the subject, and at 
least in certain connections, with the ‘guardians of the hidden trea- 
sure’ and with the smiths of the ‘subterranean fire’, who have, it may 
be recalled, an exceedingly malefic aspect; in all such symbolisms 
the same kind of ‘infra-corporeal’ subtle influences are really always 

2. In the Hindu tradition they are the demons Koka and Vikoka, whose names 
are obviously similar. 

174 the reign of quantity 

involved . 3 If the truth be told, the attempts of these ‘entities’ to 
insinuate themselves into the corporeal and human world are no 
new thing, for they go back at least to somewhere near the begin- 
ning of the Kali-Yuga , a period far more remote than that of ‘classi- 
cal’ antiquity, by which the horizon of profane historians is 
bounded. In this connection, the Chinese tradition relates in sym- 
bolical terms that ‘Niu-koua [sister and wife of Fu Hsi, who is said 
to have reigned jointly with him] melted stones of five colors 4 in 
order to repair a tear in the sky made by a giant’ (apparently, 
though it is not made quite clear, the tear was situated on the terres- 
trial horizon ); 5 and this took place at a period not more than a few 
centuries after the beginning of the Kali-Yuga. 

Nevertheless, although the Kali-Yuga as a whole is intrinsically a 
period of obscuration, so that ‘fissures’ have been possible ever since 
it began, the degree of obscuration pervading its later phases is far 
from having been attained at once, and that is why ‘fissures’ could be 
repaired relatively easily in earlier times; it was nonetheless neces- 
sary to maintain a constant vigilance against them, and this task was 
naturally among those assigned to the spiritual centers of the vari- 
ous traditions. Later on there came a period when, as a consequence 
of the extreme ‘solidification’ of the world, these same ‘fissures’ were 
much less to be feared, at least temporarily; this period corresponds 
to the first part of modern times, the part that can be defined as 

3. The symbolism of the ‘subterranean world’ is twofold, and, as in other cases, 
it also has a superior meaning, a point more particularly explained in some of the 
considerations set out in The King of the World-, but naturally only the inferior 
meaning is here in question, a meaning which could be said to be literally ‘infernal’. 

4. These five colors are white, black, blue, red, and yellow, corresponding in the 
Far-Eastern tradition to the five elements, as well as to the four cardinal points and 
the center. 

5. It is also stated that ‘Niu-Koua cut off the four feet of the tortoise to put the 
four extremities of the world in their place,’ so as to stabilize the earth; reference to 
what was said earlier about the analogical correspondences between Fu Hsi and 
Niu-koua will make it clear that the function of ensuring the stability and ‘solidity’ 
of the world belongs, according to this symbolism, to the substantial side of mani- 
festation, and this agrees exactly with all the explanations given in this book on that 
subject. [Guenon provides no references in his French text for these citations 
regarding Niu-koua, but see Symbols of Sacred Science, chap. 20. Ed.] 


being characteristically mechanistic and materialistic, in which the 
‘closed system’ alluded to was most nearly realized, at least to the 
extent that any such thing is actually possible. Nowadays, that is to 
say in the period which can be called the second part of modern 
times and which has already begun, conditions are certainly very 
different from the conditions obtaining in all earlier periods: not 
only can ‘fissures’ occur more and more extensively, and be much 
more serious in character, because a greater proportion of the 
descending course of manifestation has been accomplished, but also 
the possibilities of repairing them are not the same as they used to 
be; the action of the spiritual centers has indeed become ever more 
enclosed, because the superior influences that they normally trans- 
mit to our world can no longer be manifested externally, since they 
are held back by the ‘shell’ alluded to above; and when the whole of 
the human and cosmic order is in such a condition, where could a 
means of defence possibly be found such as might be effective in any 
way against the ‘hordes of Gog and Magog’? 

But that is not all: what has been said so far covers so to speak 
only the negative side of the growing difficulties encountered by all 
attempts to oppose the intrusion of malefic influences, among these 
difficulties being a sort of inertia resulting from the general igno- 
rance of such matters, and from ‘survivals’ of the materialistic men- 
tality and of the outlook it engenders; this inertia may endure 
longer than it otherwise would because the outlook in question has 
become more or less instinctive in the moderns and is now incorpo- 
rated in their very nature. Of course a majority of ‘spiritualists’ and 
even of ‘traditionalists’, or of people who call themselves such, are in 
fact quite as materialistic as other people when matters of this kind 
are in question, so that the situation is made even more irremedia- 
ble by the fact that those who most sincerely want to combat the 
modern spirit are almost all unwittingly affected by it, and all their 
efforts are therefore condemned to remain without any appreciable 
result; for these are matters in which goodwill is far from being 
sufficient; effective knowledge being needed as well, indeed, more 
needed than anything else. But effective knowledge is the very thing 
that is made impossible by the influence of the modern spirit with 
all its limitations, even in the case of those who might have some 


intellectual capabilities of the required kind if conditions were less 

But apart from all these negative elements, the difficulties now 
under review have an aspect that can be called positive, and this 
may be taken to include everything in our world as we know it that 
is actively favorable to the intervention of subtle influences of an 
inferior kind, whether its work be done consciously or uncon- 
sciously. The logical sequence here would be to consider in the first 
place the more or less ‘determining’ part played by the actual agents 
of the whole modern deviation, since the intervention of inferior 
influences really represents a new phase in the said deviation, and 
fits in exactly with the sequence of the ‘plan’ by which it is brought 
about; it would clearly be necessary to seek in some such direction 
for the conscious auxiliaries of the malefic forces, though the extent 
to which they are individually conscious of what they are doing may 
actually differ greatly in particular cases. As for the other auxiliaries, 
those who act in good faith then, because they know nothing of the 
true nature of the forces involved (thanks to the recently mentioned 
influence of the modern spirit) are never anything but mere dupes, 
though this does not prevent their activity from being proportional 
to their sincerity and to their blindness; these auxiliaries are already 
virtually numberless, and they can be placed in many categories, 
ranging from the ingenuous adherents of all sorts of ‘neo-spiritual- 
ist’ organizations to the ‘intuitionist’ philosophers, by way of the 
‘metapsychical’ scientists and the psychologists of the more recent 
schools. This matter need not be pursued any further for the 
moment, for to do so would be to anticipate what will come later; in 
the meantime some examples must be given of some of the ways in 
which ‘fissures’ can actually be brought about, also of the ‘supports’ 
that the inferior order of subtle or psychic influences (for the terms 
‘subtle’ and ‘psychic’ applied to a domain are for present purposes 
synonymous) are able to find in the cosmic environment itself, to 
assist them in bringing their action to bear on the human world and 
to enable them to propagate themselves therein. 



The present period corresponds to the final phases of a cyclical 
manifestation, and for that reason must exhaust its most inferior 
possibilities; that is why the period can be said to be using up every- 
thing that had been set aside in earlier periods: that and nothing else 
is truly characteristic of the modern experimental and quantitative 
sciences in particular, together with their industrial applications. 
For similar reasons the profane sciences, as has been said, even when 
considered from a historical point of view as well as from the point 
of view of their content, are really and truly ‘residues’ of some of the 
traditional sciences . 1 There is yet another fact that accords with 
those just mentioned, though its real significance is scarcely ever 
grasped, and that is the frenzy with which the moderns have under- 
taken the exhumation of the vestiges of past periods and vanished 
civilizations, despite their incapacity really to understand anything 
about them. This in itself is not a very reassuring symptom, because 
of the nature of the subtle influences that remain attached to such 
vestiges and are brought back into the light of day with them, and 
are so to speak set at liberty by the exhumation as such, without 

1. But only of some of them, for there were other traditional sciences which 
have not left in the modern world even the smallest trace, however deformed and 
deviated. It goes without saying, too, that all the enumerations and classifications 
°f the philosophers apply only to the profane sciences, and that the traditional sci- 
ences could in no way be made to fit into their narrow and ‘systematic’ categories; 
at this time, more appropriately than ever before, could the Arabic saying be 
applied to the current period, to the effect that ‘there are many sciences, but few 
scientists’ (al-'ulum kathir walakin al-'ulama qatil). 


raising any suspicion in the minds of the investigators. In order to 
explain this more fully, it will first be necessary to deal briefly with 
certain things that in themselves are as a matter of fact wholly out- 
side the modern world, but are not for that reason any the less capa- 
ble of being used so as to exert a particularly ‘disorganizing’ 
influence in that world; the rest of this chapter is therefore a digres- 
sion only in appearance, and it will incidentally provide an oppor- 
tunity for the elucidation of certain matters about which too little is 
generally known. 

In the first place, yet one more confusion and error of interpreta- 
tion arising from the modern mentality must be dissipated, and that 
is the idea that there exist things that are purely ‘material’. This con- 
ception belongs exclusively to the modern mentality, and when it is 
disencumbered from all the secondary complications added to it by 
the special theories of the physicists, it amounts to no more than the 
idea that there exist beings and things that are solely corporeal, and 
that their existence and their constitution involve no element that is 
not corporeal. This idea is directly linked to the profane point of 
view as expressed, perhaps in its most complete form, in the sci- 
ences of today, for these sciences are characterized by the absence of 
any attachment to principles of a superior order, and thus the things 
taken as the objects of their study must themselves be thought of as 
being without any such attachment (whereby the ‘residual’ charac- 
ter of the said sciences is once again made evident); this kind of out- 
look can be regarded as indispensable in order to enable science to 
deal with its object, for if a contrary admission were made, science 
would at once be compelled to recognize that the real nature of its 
object eludes it. It may perhaps be superfluous to seek elsewhere the 
reason for the enthusiasm displayed by scientists in discrediting any 
other conception, by presenting it as a ‘superstition’ arising in the 
imagination of ‘primitive’ peoples, who, it is suggested, can have 
been nothing but savages or men of an infantile mentality, as the 
‘evolutionist’ theories make them out to have been; but whether the 
reason be mere incomprehension on their part or a conscious parti- 
sanship, the scientists do succeed in producing a caricature of the 
situation convincing enough to induce a complete acceptance of 
their interpretation in everyone who believes implicitly in whatever 


they say, namely, in a large majority of our contemporaries. This is 
what has happened in the particular case of the ethnologists’ theo- 
ries about what they have agreed to call ‘animism’; strictly speaking 
this word might well possess an unobjectionable meaning, but only 
on condition that it were understood quite otherwise than they 
understand it, and that no meaning which is not justifiable etymo- 
logically were admitted. 

The truth is that the corporeal world cannot be regarded as being 
a whole sufficient to itself, nor as being isolated from the totality of 
universal manifestation: on the contrary, whatever the present state 
of things may look like as a result of ‘solidification’, the corporeal 
world proceeds entirely from the subtle order, in which it can be 
said to have its immediate principle, and through that order as 
intermediary it is attached successively to formless manifestation 
and finally to the non-manifested. If that were not so, its existence 
could be nothing but a pure illusion, a sort of phantasmagoria 
behind which there would be nothing at all, which amounts to say- 
ing that it would not really exist in any way. That being the case, 
there cannot be anything in the corporeal world such that its exist- 
ence does not depend directly on elements belonging to the subtle 
order, and beyond them, on some principle that can be called ‘spiri- 
tual’, for without the latter no manifestation of any kind is possible, 
on any level whatsoever. Confining attention to the subtle elements, 
which must therefore be present in everything and are merely more 
or less hidden according to circumstances, it can be said that they 
correspond to that which properly speaking constitutes the ‘psychic’ 
order in the human being; it is therefore legitimate in every case, by 
a natural extension implying no ‘anthropomorphism’ but only a 
perfectly valid analogy, also to call them ‘psychic’ (and that is why a 
cosmic psychism was spoken of previously), or even ‘animic’, for 
these two words, according to their original meanings and their 
respectively Greek and Latin derivations, are really precisely synony- 
mous. It follows from this that there can in fact be no ‘inanimate’ 
objects in existence, and also that ‘life’ is one of the conditions to 
which all corporeal existence without exception is subject; and that 
is why nobody has ever arrived at a satisfactory definition of the 
difference between the ‘living’ and the ‘non-living’, for that question, 


like so many others in modern philosophy and science, is only insol- 
uble because there is no good reason for posing it, since the ‘non- 
living’ has no place in the domain to which the question is related, 
and the only differences involved are really no more than mere 
differences of degree. 

Such a way of looking at things can be called ‘animism’ without 
objection, if that word is held to imply nothing more or other than 
the affirmation that there are ‘animic’ elements in all things; it is 
clear that this kind of animism is directly opposed to mechanism, 
just as reality itself is opposed to mere outward appearance. It is 
equally clear that this conception is ‘primitive’, but it is so quite sim- 
ply because it is true, which is almost exactly the opposite of what 
the evolutionists mean when they qualify it in that way. At the same 
time, and for the same reasons, this conception is necessarily com- 
mon to all the traditional doctrines; it can therefore be said to be 
‘normal’, whereas the opposite idea, that of ‘inanimate’ things (of 
which one of the most extreme expressions is found in the Cartesian 
theory of ‘animal-machines’) represents a real anomaly, but then so 
do all specifically modern and profane ideas. But it must be clearly 
understood that the traditional conception in no way implies any 
‘personification’ of the natural forces that are studied by the physi- 
cists after their own fashion, and still less any ‘adoration’ of those 
forces, as is made out to be the case by those for whom ‘animism’ is 
something they think they can call ‘primitive religion’; in actual fact 
the only considerations involved are such as belong exclusively to 
the domain of cosmology, and they can find their applications in 
various traditional sciences. It should be superfluous to point out 
that the question of the ‘psychic’ elements inherent in things, or of 
forces of that order expressed or manifested through things, has 
nothing whatever to do with the ‘spiritual’; the confusion of these 
two domains is yet another purely modern phenomenon, and is 
doubtless not unconnected with the idea of making a ‘religion’ out 
of what is really science in the most precise sense of the word; our 
contemporaries, despite their pretensions to ‘clear ideas’ (evidently 
a direct inheritance from the mechanism and ‘universal material- 
ism’ of Descartes) mix up in a very curious way the most heteroge- 
neous things and those that are the most essentially distinct! 


It is important to note at this point, in view of what is to follow, 
that the ethnologists habitually treat as ‘primitive’ forms that are 
only degenerate to a greater or less extent; and these forms are in 
any case very often not really on as low a level as might be supposed 
from the accounts that are given of them; however that may be, this 
explains how ‘animism’, which is in itself only a particular feature of 
a doctrine, has come to be taken as characterizing a doctrine in its 
entirety. Indeed, where there is degeneration, it is naturally the 
superior part of the doctrine, its metaphysical or spiritual side, that 
disappears more or less completely, so that something that was 
originally only secondary, and in particular the cosmological and 
‘psychic’ side— to which ‘animism’ and its applications properly 
belong— inevitably assumes a preponderant importance. The 
remainder, even if it still persists to some extent, may easily elude 
the observer from outside, all the more so because that observer, 
being ignorant of the profound significance of rites and symbols, is 
unable to recognize in them any elements belonging to a superior 
order (any more than he can recognize them in the vestiges of com- 
pletely extinct civilizations) and thinks that everything can be 
explained indifferently in terms of magic, or even sometimes of 
mere ‘sorcery’. 

A very clear example of this sort of thing can be found in a case 
such as that of ‘shamanism’, which is generally regarded as one of 
the typical forms of ‘animism’; the derivation of the word is rather 
uncertain, but it is generally used to denote the aggregate of the tra- 
ditional doctrines and practices of certain Mongol peoples of Sibe- 
ria, though a few people extend its meaning to cover anything that 
may present similar features in any country. Many people regard 
‘shamanism’ as almost synonymous with sorcery, but it certainly 
should not be so, for the two things are quite distinct; the word has 
undergone a deviation opposite to that of ‘fetishism’, which really 
has etymologically the meaning of ‘sorcery’, but has been applied to 
things that include nothing of the kind. It may be noted in this con- 
nection that the distinction some people have tried to establish 
between ‘shamanism’ and ‘fetishism’, regarded as being two varieties 
of ‘animism’, is neither as clear nor as important as they think: 
whether human beings, as in the first case, or various objects, as in 

182 the reign of quantity 

the second, chiefly serve as ‘supports’ or ‘condensers’, if that is the 
right word, for certain subtle influences, the difference is only one of 
‘technical’ modalities involving in themselves no truly essential 
differences . 2 

If we consider ‘shamanism’ properly so called, the existence of a 
highly developed cosmology becomes apparent, of a kind that 
might suggest concordances with other traditions in many respects, 
and first with respect to a separation of the ‘three worlds’, which 
seems to be its very foundation. ‘Shamanism’ will also be found to 
include rites comparable to some that belong to traditions of the 
highest order: some of them, for example, recall in a striking way 
the Vedic rites, and particularly those that are most clearly derived 
from the primordial tradition, such as those in which the symbols 
of the tree and of the swan predominate. There can therefore be no 
doubt that ‘shamanism’ is derived from some form that was, at least 
originally, a regular and normal traditional form; moreover it has 
retained up to the present day a certain ‘transmission’ of the powers 
necessary for the exercise of the functions of the ‘shaman’; but as 
soon as it becomes clear that the ‘shaman’ directs his activity partic- 
ularly toward the most inferior traditional sciences, such as magic 
and divination, a very real degeneration must be suspected, such as 
may sometimes amount to a real deviation, as can happen all too 
easily to such sciences whenever they become over-developed. 
There are indeed some rather disquieting indications in that direc- 
tion, one of them being the connection established between the 
‘shaman’ and an animal, a connection restricted to a single individ- 
ual and so in no way assimilable to the collective connection rightly 
or wrongly called ‘totemism’. It should be added that all this could 
in itself receive a perfectly legitimate explanation quite unconnected 
with sorcery; what gives it a suspicious character is the fact that 
among some peoples, if not among all, the animal is considered as 
being more or less a form of the ‘shaman’ himself; and there may be 

2 . In what follows, a certain amount of information about ‘shamanism’ is 
drawn from an exposition called ‘Shamanism of the Natives of Siberia’ by 1-M. 
Casanowicz (taken from the Smithsonian Report for 1924) to which the authors 
attention was kindly called by A.K. Coomaraswamy. 


no great distance between an identification of that kind, and ‘lycan- 
thropy’ as it exists more particularly among the black races . 3 

But there is something else as well, and something more directly 
connected with our subject: from among the psychic influences 
with which they deal, the ‘shamans’ quite naturally distinguish two 
kinds, one benefic and the other malefic, and as there is obviously 
nothing to be feared from the former, they pay attention almost 
exclusively to the latter: such at any rate appears most often to be 
the case, though it may be that ‘shamanism’ includes various forms 
that might show differences in that respect. But there is never any 
question of a ‘cult’ devoted to the malefic influences, which would 
be a sort of conscious ‘satanism’, as has often been wrongly imag- 
ined; the only objective is, in principle, that of preventing them 
from doing harm, or of neutralizing or diverting their activity. The 
same could be said with truth of other supposed ‘devil-worshippers’ 
living in various places: in a general way it is scarcely likely that real 
‘satanism’ could be characteristic of an entire people. Nevertheless, 
it is still true that, whatever may be the original intention, the han- 
dling of influences of this sort, when no appeal is made to influences 
of a superior order (still less to truly spiritual influences), finally 
leads by force of circumstances to real sorcery, which is a very differ- 
ent thing of course from the sorcery of the common ‘rustic magi- 
cian’ of the West, for this last represents no more than the last scraps 
of a magical knowledge as degenerate and diminished as it could be, 
and on the point of complete extinction. The magical part of ‘sha- 
manism’ doubtless has a vitality of quite a different order, and that is 
why it is something really to be feared in more than one respect; for 
the practically constant contact with inferior psychic forces is as 
dangerous as could be, first for the ‘shaman’ himself, as is to be 
expected, but also from another point of view of a much less nar- 
rowly ‘localized’ interest. There are indeed people who, by working 

3. There is evidence worthy of belief to the effect that there exists in a distant 
part of the Sudan a whole population of at least twenty thousand people who are 
lycanthropic’; there are also, in other African countries, secret organizations, such 
as that to which the name of ‘Society of the Leopard’ was given, in which certain 
forms of lycanthropy play a predominant part. 


more consciously and with a more extensive knowledge (and this 
does not mean knowledge of a higher order) might be able to make 
use of these same forces for quite different ends, unbeknown to the 
‘shamans’ or those whose work is similar, for they act as nothing 
more than mere instruments for accumulating the forces in ques- 
tion at pre-determined points. It is known that there are in the 
world a certain number of ‘repositories’ of influences, the distribu- 
tion of which is certainly no matter of chance, serving only too well 
the designs of the ‘powers’ responsible for the whole modern devia- 
tion; but that demands some further explanations, for it may seem 
surprising at first sight that the remains of what was once an 
authentic tradition should lend themselves to a ‘subversion’ of this 




The last point mentioned in connection with ‘shamanism’ 
needs to be clarified, for it contains the main reason for the intro- 
duction of the subject; for this purpose it must be made clear that 
the case of the persistent vestiges of a degenerate tradition that has 
lost its superior or ‘spiritual’ part is fully comparable to the case of 
the psychic remains left behind by a human being in passing to 
another state, for these remains can be used for any purpose once 
they have been abandoned by the ‘spirit’. Whether they be made use 
of consciously by a magician or a sorcerer, or unconsciously by spir- 
itualists, the more or less malefic effects that can accrue obviously 
have nothing to do with the inherent character of the being to 
whom they belonged before; they are no longer anything but a spe- 
cial category of ‘wandering influences’, to use the terminology of the r 
Far-Eastern tradition, and they have kept at the most a purely illu- 
sory likeness to the said being. Comparisons of this kind can only 
be fully understood if it is remembered that even spiritual infl- 
uences themselves must necessarily, if they are to come into action 
in our world, take appropriate ‘supports’, first of all in the psychic 
order, then in the corporeal order itself, so that the result is some- 
thing analogous to the constitution of a human being. If later on the 
spiritual influences for any reason withdraw themselves, their 
former corporeal supports, whether places or objects (and when 
places are in question their situation is naturally connected with the 
‘sacred geography’ mentioned earlier) will nonetheless remain 
charged with psychic elements that will be all the stronger and more 
persistent through having previously served as the intermediaries 


and the instruments of a yet more powerful action. It would be log- 
ical to conclude that important traditional and initiatic centers, 
more or less long since extinct, must in general be the most impor- 
tant potential sources of danger, whether arising from violent reac- 
tions provoked in the psychic conglomerates persisting in such 
places by sheer imprudence, or more especially from the seizure of 
these elements by ‘black magicians’, to use the accepted expression, 
who could then manoeuvre them at will in order to obtain results 
conforming to a plan. 

The existence of the first of these two sources of danger goes a 
long way toward explaining the harmful character of certain ves- 
tiges of extinct civilizations when they come to be exhumed by peo- 
ple who, like the modern archaeologists, know nothing of such 
matters, and so inevitably fail to act with prudence. That is not to 
say that there may not sometimes be other factors in the situation: 
for instance, a particular ancient civilization may have degenerated 
through an excessive development of magic in its final phases , 1 and 
its remains will naturally then always bear the imprint of that devel- 
opment in the shape of psychic influences of a very inferior order. It 
is also possible, even in the absence of any degeneration of that sort, 
that places or objects may have been specially prepared by way of 
defensive action against anyone who might touch them improperly, 
for precautions of this kind are in no way illegitimate as such, 
although the fact of attaching too great an importance to them is 
none too favorable an indication, for it affords evidence of preoccu- 
pations rather remote from pure spirituality, and even perhaps of a 
certain lack of knowledge of the power possessed by pure spiritual- 
ity, which should make it unnecessary to resort to such ‘extras’. But 
apart from all this, persistent psychic influences, when deprived of 
the ‘spirit’ that formerly directed them, are reduced to a sort of ‘lar- 
val’ state, and can easily by themselves react to a particular provoca- 
tion, however involuntary it may be, in a more or less disordered 
manner, and in any case in a manner quite unrelated to the inten- 
tions of those who used theifi formerly for purposes of quite 
another order. Just in the same way the gruesome manifestations of 

1. Such appears to have been the case with ancient Egypt in particular. 


psychic ‘corpses’ that sometimes occur in spiritualist seances, have 
absolutely no relation in any circumstances whatever to the possi- 
bilities of action or of desire of the individualities whose subtle 
forms they were, and whose posthumous ‘identity’ they imitate 
more or less badly, to the great amazement of the ingenuous who 
are all too ready to take them for ‘spirits’. 

So under many conditions the influences in question can be quite 
pernicious enough, even when they are simply left to themselves; 
this fact is merely a result of the inherent nature of the forces of the 
‘intermediary world’, about which nobody can do anything, any 
more than they can prevent ‘physical’ forces, meaning the forces 
belonging to the corporeal order studied by the physicists, from act- 
ing in certain circumstances so as to cause accidents for which no 
human will can be held responsible; what is revealed by all this is 
the true significance of modern antiquarian researches, and the part 
they actually play in opening up some of the ‘fissures’ previously 
referred to. But in addition, these same influences are at the mercy 
of anyone who knows how to ‘capture’ them, just as are ‘physical’ 
forces; it goes without saying that either can be made to serve the 
most diverse and even the most contradictory ends, according to 
the intentions of whoever has taken control of them and can direct 
them to his chosen purpose; and, when subtle influences are 
involved, if their controller happens to be a ‘black magician’, it is 
obvious that they will be used by him for a purpose quite contrary 
to that for which they might have been used in earlier times by the 
qualified representatives of a regular tradition. 

All that has been said so far relates to the vestiges left by an 
entirely extinct tradition; but there is another case to be considered 
alongside this one: that of an ancient traditional civilization that 
lives on so to speak for itself alone, in the sense that its degeneration 
has proceeded to such a point that the ‘spirit’ has at last withdrawn 
entirely from it. Certain kinds of knowledge, having nothing of the 
spiritual in them and belonging only to the order of contingent 
applications, may still continue to be transmitted, particularly the 
more inferior among them, but they will naturally thereafter be lia- 
ble to every kind of deviation, for they themselves represent nothing 
more than ‘residues’ of another kind, the pure doctrine on which 


they ought normally to depend having disappeared. In this sort of 
case of ‘survival’ the psychic influences set to work in earlier times 
by the representatives of the tradition will again be liable to be ‘cap- 
tured’, even without the knowledge of their apparent guardians, 
who will thenceforth be illegitimate and entirely without real 
authority; those who really make use of the influences through 
them will thus have the advantage of having at their disposal not 
only so-called ‘inanimate’ objects as unconscious instruments of the 
action they want to exercise, but also living men who serve no less 
well as ‘supports’ to the influences, and whose real existence confers 
on them a much greater vitality. Exactly this sort of thing was in 
view in quoting an example like that of ‘shamanism’, but of course 
with the reservation that it must not be held to apply indiscrimi- 
nately to all the things that are commonly grouped under that 
rather conventional heading, for they may not all have arrived at an 
equal degree of decadence. 

A tradition deviated to that extent is really dead as such, just as 
dead as a tradition that no longer even appears to be in existence; if 
there were any life left in it, however little, no such subversion could 
in any event take place, for it consists in nothing but a reversal of 
what remains of the tradition so as to make it work in a direction by 
definition anti-traditional. It is however as well to add that before 
things reach that point, and as soon as traditional organizations are 
so diminished and enfeebled as no longer to be capable of adequate 
resistance, the more or less direct agents of the ‘adversary ’ 2 can 
begin to work their way in with a view to hastening the time when 
‘subversion’ will become possible; they are not always sure to suc- 
ceed, for whatever still has some life can always recover itself; but if 
death takes place, the enemy will then be found to be as it were in 
possession and ready to take advantage of his position and to use 
the ‘corpse’ for his own purposes. The representatives of everything 
in the Western world that still retains an authentically traditional 
character, in the exoteric as well as in the initiatic domain, might be 
thought to have the strongest possible interest in paying attention to 

2. The literal meaning of the Hebrew word Shaytan is ‘adversary’, and the ‘pow- 
ers’ now under consideration are truly ‘satanic’ in character. 


this last observation while there is still time, for all around them the 
menacing signs indicating ‘infiltrations’ of this kind are unfortu- 
nately by no means indiscernible by anyone who knows how to find 

Another consideration having its own importance is this: if the 
‘adversary’ (as to whose nature some more exact indications will 
follow) has something to gain by taking possession of places that 
were the seat of former spiritual centers, it is not solely because of 
the psychic influences accumulated in them and more or less free to 
be made use of, but it is also for the very reason that the places are 
where they are, for of course they were not chosen arbitrarily for the 
part they had to play at one time or another, and in connection with 
one traditional form or another. ‘Sacred geography’, the knowledge 
of which determines the choice in question, is susceptible, like every 
other traditional science of a contingent order, of being diverted 
from its legitimate purpose and of being applied ‘inversely’. If a 
place is ‘privileged’ to serve for the emission and direction of psy- 
chic influences when they are operating as vehicles of a spiritual 
action, it will be no less so when these same psychic influences are 
used in quite another way and for ends opposed to all spirituality. It 
may be observed in passing that the danger of the misdirection of 
certain kinds of knowledge, of which this last is a very clear exam- 
ple, accounts for much of the secrecy that is quite natural in a nor- 
mal civilization; but the moderns show themselves to be entirely 
incapable of understanding this, for they commonly mistake what is 
really a measure designed as far as possible to prevent the misuse of 
knowledge for a desire to monopolize that knowledge. And in truth 
secrecy only ceases to be effective when the organizations that are 
the repositories of the knowledge in question allow unqualified 
individuals to penetrate into their ranks, for these individuals may 
even be agents of the ‘adversary’, and if they are so one of their first 
objects will be to discover the secrets. All this has of course no di- 
rect relation to the true initiatic secret, which resides, as explained 
earlier, exclusively in the ‘ineffable’ and ‘incommunicable’, and is 
therefore obviously protected from all indiscreet research; neverthe- 
less, although none but contingent matters are in question here, it 
must be recognized that the precautions that may be taken within 


the contingent order with a view to avoiding all deviation, and thus 
all harmful action that might arise from it, are far from having in 
practice only a relatively negligible interest. 

In any case, whether it be a question of the places themselves, of 
the influences remaining attached to them, or again of knowledge of 
the kind just mentioned, the old adage corruptio optimi pessima may 
be recalled, and may be applied perhaps more accurately here than 
in any other case; and moreover corruption’ is just the right word, 
even in its most literal sense, for the ‘residues’ here concerned are, as 
stated at the beginning, comparable to the products of the decom- 
position of a once living being; and as all corruption is more or less 
contagious, these products of the dissolution of things past will 
themselves exercise, wherever they may be ‘projected’, a particularly 
dissolving and disaggregating action, especially if they are made use 
of by a will clearly conscious of its objectives. All this may be likened 
to a sort of ‘necromancy’, making use of psychic remains quite other 
than those of human individuals, and it is by no means the least 
redoubtable sort, for it has by its nature a field of action far more 
extensive than that of common witchcraft, indeed no comparison 
between the two being possible in that respect: matters have reached 
such a point nowadays that our contemporaries must indeed be 
blind not to have even the least suspicion of where they stand! 



The material presented to the reader hitherto and the exam- 
ples given should make it easier to understand, if only in a general 
way, the precise character of the stages in the anti-traditional action 
that has really ‘made’ the modern world as such; but it is of first 
importance not to forget that, since all effective action necessarily 
presupposes agents, anti-traditional action is like all other kinds of 
action, so that it cannot be a sort of spontaneous or ‘fortuitous’ pro- 
duction, and, since it is exercised particularly in the human domain, 
it must of necessity involve the intervention of human agents. The 
fact that it has conformed to the specific character of the cyclic 
period in which it has been working explains why it was possible 
and why it was successful, but is not enough to explain the manner 
of its realization, nor to indicate the various measures put into oper- 
ation to arrive at its result. In any case, a little reflection on what fol- 
lows should suffice to bring conviction, for the spiritual influences 
themselves act in every traditional organization through human 
beings as intermediaries and as authorized representatives of the 
tradition, although the tradition is really ‘supra-human’ in its 
essence; there is all the more reason why the same condition should 
apply when only psychic influences come into the picture, especially 
such as are of the lowest order, and are the very antithesis of a power 
transcendent with respect to our world, apart from the fact that the 


character of ‘counterfeit’, everywhere manifested in this domain, 
and to be referred to again later, makes human intermediaries even 
more rigorously necessary. On the other hand, initiation, in what- 
ever form it may appear, is that which really incarnates the ‘spirit’ of 
a tradition, and is also that which allows of the effective realization 
of ‘supra-human’ states; obviously therefore initiation is the thing 
that must be opposed (at least insofar as any such opposition is 
really conceivable) by anti-traditional action, which tries by every 
means to drag men toward the ‘infra-human’. The term ‘counter- 
initiation’ is therefore the best for describing that to which the 
human agents through whom the anti-traditional action is accom- 
plished belong, both as a whole and in their various degrees (for, 
like initiation itself, it must necessarily comprise degrees); and this 
term is not merely a conventional expression used for convenience 
to designate something that really has no name, for in its form and 
in its meaning it corresponds as exactly as possible to very precise 

It is rather remarkable that in considering the whole assemblage 
of all the things that really constitute modern civilization, from 
whatever point of view it is envisaged, one is always driven to the 
conclusion that everything seems to be increasingly artificial, dena- 
tured, and falsified. Many of those who criticize modern civilization 
today are struck by the fact, even when they do not know how to 
carry the matter any further and have not the least suspicion of 
what really lies behind it. A little logic should, it seems, be enough 
to indicate that if everything has become artificial, the mentality to 
which this state of things corresponds must be no less artificial than 
everything else, that it too must be ‘manufactured’ and not sponta- 
neous; and once this simple reflection has been made, indications 
pointing in the same direction cannot fail to be seen in almost 
indefinitely growing multitude everywhere. Nevertheless it seems 
unfortunately to be very difficult to escape sufficiently far from the 
‘suggestions’ to which the modern world owes both its existence 
as such and its persistence, for even those who declare themselves 
most resolutely ‘anti-modern’ generally see nothing whatever of all 
this, and that is why their expenditure of effort is so often a dead 
loss, or at any rate has almost no real significance. 


The anti-traditional action necessarily had to aim both at a 
change in the general mentality and at the destruction of all tradi- 
tional institutions in the West, since the West is where it began to 
work first and most directly, while awaiting the proper time for an 
attempt to extend its operations over the whole world, using the 
Westerners duly prepared to become its instruments. Moreover, 
once the mentality had been changed, the institutions could be the 
more easily destroyed because they would then no longer conform 
to it; the work that aims at a deviation of mentality therefore 
appears to be really fundamental, and on that work all else must 
depend in one way or another; attention will therefore be chiefly 
directed toward it. It is a work that obviously could not be made 
effective all at once, although perhaps the most astonishing thing of 
all is the speed with which it has been possible to induce Westerners 
to forget everything connected with the existence of a traditional 
civilization in their countries; if one thinks of the total incompre- 
hension of the Middle Ages and everything connected with them 
which became apparent in the seventeenth and eighteenth centu- 
ries, it becomes easy to understand that so complete and abrupt a 
change cannot have come about in a natural and spontaneous way. 
However that may be, the first task was as it were to confine men 
within the limits of their own individuality, and this was the task of 
rationalism, as previously explained, for rationalism denies to the 
being the possession or use of any faculty of a transcendent order; 
it goes without saying moreover that rationalism began its work 
before ever it was known by that name, and before it took on its 
more especially philosophical form, as has been shown in connec- 
tion with Protestantism; and besides, the ‘humanism’ of the Renais- 
sance was no more than the direct precursor of rationalism properly 
so called, for the very word ‘humanism’ implies a pretension to 
bring everything down to purely human elements and thus (at least 
in practice if not yet by virtue of an expressly formulated theory) to 
exclude everything of a supra-individual order. The next thing to do 
was to turn the attention of the individual toward external and sen- 
sible objects, in order as it were to enclose him, not only within the 
human domain, but within the much narrower limits of the corpo- 
real world alone; that is the starting-point of the whole of modern 

194 the reign of quantity 

science, which was destined to continue to work in the same direc- 
tion, thus making the limitation more and more effective. The con- 
stitution of scientific or, if preferred, of philosophico-scientific 
theories also had to be embarked upon gradually (and here it is nec- 
essary to do no more than to summarize matters already dealt with); 
mechanism prepared the way directly for materialism, which was to 
mark the more or less irremediable limitation of the mental horizon 
to the corporeal domain, thenceforth looked upon as the only ‘real- 
ity’, and itself stripped of everything that could not be regarded as 
simply ‘material’; naturally, the elaboration of the very notion of 
‘matter’ by the physicists had an important part to play at this point. 
This is the point at which the ‘reign of quantity’ was really entered 
upon: profane science, mechanistic ever since Descartes, became 
more specifically materialistic after the second half of the eighteenth 
century, and was to become more and more exclusively quantitative 
in its successive theories, while at the same time materialism insinu- 
ated itself into the general mentality and finally succeeded in stabi- 
lizing that attitude, without resort to any kind of theoretical form- 
ulation; thus it became all the more diffused and passed finally into 
the state of being the sort of ‘instinct’ that has been called ‘practical 
materialism’. This attitude was to be yet further reinforced by the 
industrial applications of quantitative science, which had the effect 
of attaching men more and more completely to purely material real- 
izations. Man ‘mechanized’ everything and ended at last by mecha- 
nizing himself, falling little by little into the condition of numerical 
units, parodying unity, yet lost in the uniformity and indistinction 
of the ‘masses’, that is, in pure multiplicity and nothing else. Surely 
that is the most complete triumph of quantity over quality that can 
be imagined. 

Nevertheless, while the work of ‘materialization’ and ‘quantifica- 
tion’ was proceeding (and by the way it is not yet finished and never 
can be, because a complete reduction to pure quantity is not realiz- 
able within manifestation), another work, opposed to it only in 
appearance, had already begun, and it may be remembered that it 
really began concurrently with materialism properly so called. This 
second part of anti-traditional action had to lead not to ‘solidifica- 
tion’ but to ‘dissolution’; nevertheless, far from contradicting the 


tendency characterized as reduction to quantity, it was bound to 
reinforce it as soon as the greatest possible ‘solidification’ had been 
reached, and as soon as the said tendency had passed beyond its first 
objective and had begun to try to assimilate the continuous to the 
discontinuous, thus itself becoming a tendency toward dissolution. 
This is the moment at which the second kind of work, which had at 
first only been carried out in a more or less hidden manner by way 
of preparation, and in any case on a restricted scale, had to come 
into the open and in its turn to cover an increasingly wide field, 
while at the same time quantitative science became less strictly 
materialistic in the proper sense of the word, and even in the end 
ceased to lean on the notion of ‘matter’, which had been rendered 
more and more inconsistent and ‘evanescent’ as a consequence of 
theoretical elaborations applied to it. This is the condition in which 
we now are: materialism merely survives for its own sake, and no 
doubt it may well survive a good deal longer, especially in the form 
of ‘practical materialism’, but in any case, it has ceased henceforth to 
play the principal part in anti-traditional action. 

After having enclosed the corporeal world as completely as possi- 
ble, it was necessary, while guarding against the re-establishment of 
any communication with superior domains, to open it up again 
from below, so as to allow the dissolving and destructive forces of 
the inferior subtle domain to penetrate into it. It is the ‘unleashing’ 
of these forces, so to speak, and the setting of them to work to com- 
plete the deviation of our world and effectively to bring it toward 
final dissolution, that constitutes the second part or second phase 
referred to. It is right to regard the two phases as distinct, though 
they have in part been simultaneous, for in the total plan of the 
modern deviation they follow one another logically and only reach 
their full effectiveness successively; moreover, as soon as material- 
ism had been established, the first phase was in a sense virtually 
complete and could be left to take its course in the form of a devel- 
opment of everything implied in materialism as such. That is the 
moment at which the preparation of the second phase began, and 
none but its first effects have as yet become apparent, but they have 
become sufficiently apparent to allow their sequel to be foreseen, 
and to make it possible to say with no exaggeration whatever that 


the second aspect of anti-traditional action moves from now 
onwards into first place in the designs of what was at first compre- 
hensively described as the ‘adversary’ but can now, and with greater 
exactitude, be named the ‘counter- initiation’ 




The anti-traditional action by which the modern world has 
in a sense been ‘manufactured’ has hitherto been considered as an 
operation designed primarily to bring about a deviation from the 
normal state, that is, from the state normal to all traditional civiliza- 
tions whatever may be their particular forms, something easy to 
understand and requiring no further comment. On the other hand, 
there is a distinction to be made between deviation and subversion: 
deviation can be regarded as comprising an indefinite multiplicity 
of degrees, so that it can go to work gradually and imperceptibly; 
this is exemplified by the gradual passage of the modern mentality 
from ‘humanism’ and rationalism to mechanism, and thence to 
materialism, and again in the process whereby profane science has 
elaborated successive theories each more purely quantitative in 
character than the last. This makes it possible to say that all such 
deviation, from its earliest beginnings, has steadily and progres- 
sively tended toward the establishment of the ‘reign of quantity’. But 
when deviation reaches its limit, it ends by being a real ‘contradic- 
tion’, that is to say a state diametrically opposed to the normal 
order, and only then can ‘subversion’ in the etymological sense of 
the word properly be spoken of; needless to say, ‘subversion’ in this 
sense must in no way be confused with the ‘reversal’ referred to in 
connection with the final instant of the cycle, it being indeed the 
exact opposite since the ‘reversal’ actually happens after the ‘subver- 
sion’ and at the moment when subversion seems complete, and is 
really a rectification whereby the normal order is re-established, 
and whereby the ‘primordial state’, representing perfection in the 
human domain, is restored. 


As against this, it could be said that subversion, thus understood, 
is but the last stage of deviation and is its goal, or, in other words, 
that deviation as a whole has no tendency other than to bring about 
subversion, and that is true enough; in the present state of affairs, 
though it cannot yet be said that subversion is complete, the signs of 
it are very evident in everything in which the special characteristic 
of ‘counterfeit’ or ‘parody’ is conspicuous. This characteristic has 
already been mentioned more than once, and is to be dealt with 
more fully later. For the moment no more need be said than that 
this particular characteristic affords by itself a very significant indi- 
cation of the origin of anything that shows it, and consequently of 
the origin of the modern deviation itself, the ‘satanic’ nature of 
which is thus brought out very clearly. The word ‘satanic’ can 
indeed be properly applied to all negation and reversal of order, 
such as is so incontestably in evidence in everything we now see 
around us: is the modern world really anything whatever but a 
direct denial of all traditional truth? At the same time, and more or 
less of necessity, the spirit of negation is the spirit of lying; it wears 
every disguise, often the most unexpected, in order to avoid being 
recognized for what it is, and even in order to pass itself off as the 
very opposite of what it is; this is where counterfeit comes in; and 
this is the moment to recall that it is said that ‘Satan is the ape of 
God’, and also that he ‘transfigures himself into an angel of light’. In 
the end, this amounts to saying that he imitates in his own way, by 
altering and falsifying it so as always to make it serve his own ends, 
the very thing he sets out to oppose: thus, he will so manage matters 
that disorder takes on the appearance of a false order, he will hide 
the negation of all principle under the affirmation of false princi- 
ples, and so on. Naturally, nothing of that kind can ever really be 
more than dissimulation and even caricature, but it is presented 
cleverly enough to induce an immense majority of men to allow 
themselves to be deceived by it; and why should we be astonished at 
this, when it is so easy to observe both the extent to which trickery, 
even of the crudest sort, succeeds in imposing itself on the crowd, 
and also the difficulty of subsequently undeceiving them? Vulgus 
vult decipi was already a saying of the ancients of the ‘classical 
period’, and no doubt there have always been people, though never 
as many as in our days, ready to add: ergo decipiaturl 


Nevertheless, anyone who speaks of counterfeit thereby suggests 
the idea of parody, for they are almost synonyms; there is invariably 
a grotesque element in affairs of this kind, and it may be more 
apparent or less so, but it ought never to escape the notice of 
observers, even observers of only a very moderate perspicacity, were 
it not for the fact that natural perspicacity in that direction is abol- 
ished by the ‘suggestions’ to which they are unconsciously sub- 
jected. This is the direction in which falsehood, however clever it 
may be, cannot do otherwise than betray itself; it is also of course a 
‘label’ of origin, inseparable from counterfeit itself, which should 
normally make it recognizable as such. If it were necessary to give 
examples chosen from the various manifestations of the modern 
spirit, there would be only too many from which to choose, begin- 
ning with the ‘civic’ or ‘lay’ pseudo-rites that have developed so 
extensively in the last few years, and are intended to provide the 
‘masses’ with a purely human substitute for real religious rites, 
down to the extravagance of a self-styled ‘naturism’, which in spite 
of its name is no less artificial, not to say ‘anti-natural’, than are the 
useless complications of existence against which it lays claim to 
react by means of a ludicrous comedy having as its real purpose to 
make people believe that the ‘state of nature’ is to be confused with 
animality; meanwhile, something more than the mere comfort of 
the human being is now threatened with denaturation by the 
growth of the idea, so contradictory in itself but conforming well to 
a democratic ‘egalitarianism’, of an ‘organization of leisure ’. 1 The 
things mentioned here are intentionally only such as are known to 
everyone and they undeniably belong to what may be called the 
‘public domain’ and can be grasped without trouble by anyone; is it 
not strange that those who feel the absurdity of all this, to say noth- 
ing of its danger, are so rare as to be really exceptional? Such things 
as these ought to be spoken of as ‘pseudo-religion’, ‘pseudo-nature’, 
‘pseudo-comfort’, and the same is true of many other things; if one 
wanted always to speak strictly according to truth, the word 
‘pseudo’ would continually have to be put in front of the name of all 

1. It is opportune to add that this ‘organization of leisure’ is an integral part of 
the efforts referred to earlier, such as are intended to oblige men to live ‘in com- 
mon’ as far as possible. 


the products of the modern world, including that of profane science 
itself— for it is only a ‘pseudo-science’ or imitation of knowledge -- 
in order to give a true indication of what it all amounts to: falsifica- 
tions and nothing else, and falsifications of which the objective is 
only too clear to anyone still capable of reflection. 

So much for that; and now let us return to considerations of a 
more general kind. What is it that makes this counterfeit possible, 
and even increasingly possible and increasingly perfect of its kind, if 
indeed any such words can be used in such a connection, as the 
descending course of the cycle proceeds? The profound reason lies 
in the relation of inverse analogy that exists, as explained, between 
the highest and the lowest points: it is this that makes possible in 
particular, and in a degree corresponding to that of the approach to 
the domain of pure quantity, the realization of those sorts of coun- 
terfeits of principial unity as are manifested in the ‘uniformity’ and 
‘simplicity’ toward which the modern spirit tends, and in which its 
efforts to bring everything down to the quantitative point of view 
are most completely expressed. This perhaps shows more clearly 
than anything else that deviation has, so to speak, only to be devel- 
oped and allowed to pursue its course to the end in order finally to 
lead to subversion properly so called, for when that which is most 
inferior (it being in this case a question of something inferior even 
to all possible existence) seeks to imitate and make a counterfeit of 
superior and transcendent principles, then is the time when real 
subversion can justly be spoken of. Nevertheless it is as well to recall 
that in the nature of things the tendency to pure quantity can never 
produce its full effect; therefore, in order that subversion may reach 
its term the intervention of something else is necessary. At this stage 
what was said earlier on the subject of dissolution could be 
repeated, but from a slightly different point of view; obviously that 
which appertains to the final point of cyclic manifestation is equally 
concerned in both cases; and that is exactly why the ‘rectification of 
the ultimate instant must appear precisely as a reversal of all things, 
when it is seen in relation to the state of subversion existing imme- 
diately before that instant. 

Bearing in mind this last point, this much more can be said: the 
first of the two phases that have been distinguished in anti-tradi- 
tional action represents simply a work of deviation, the particular 


end of which is a materialism of the crudest and most complete 
kind; as for the second phase, it could be specially characterized as a 
work of subversion (for that is the point to which it leads most 
directly) destined to end in the setting-up of what has been called 
an inverted spirituality, as will be seen more clearly from what fol- 
lows. The inferior subtle forces that are called in during this second 
phase can certainly be described as ‘subversive’ from every point of 
view; and it was considered right to apply the word ‘subversion 
above to the ‘inverted’ utilization of the remains of ancient tradi- 
tions abandoned by the ‘spirit’; and the two cases are in any case 
similar, for under such conditions corrupt vestiges themselves nec- 
essarily fall into the lower regions of the subtle domain. Another 
particularly clear example of the work of subversion will be given in 
the next chapter, in the form of the intentional inversion of the 
legitimate and normal meaning of traditional symbols; this will 
afford in addition an opportunity to give a fuller explanation of the 
double meaning usually contained in symbols themselves; for so 
many references to double meanings of this kind have already been 
made in the course of this study that a little more detail on the sub- 
ject will not be out of place. 



Surprise is sometimes expressed at the fact that one and the 
same symbol can be taken in two senses, which are, at least appar- 
ently, directly contrary one to the other. This question is not merely 
one of the multiplicity of meanings that can, generally speaking, be 
carried by any symbol according to the point of view or the level 
from which it is considered, any kind of ‘systematization’ of sym- 
bols being made impossible by this very adaptability, but is a ques- 
tion more particularly of two aspects linked together through a 
mutual correlation, taking the form of an opposition, in such a way 
that one is so to speak the reverse or the ‘negative’ of the other. In 
order to understand this, duality must in the first place be consid- 
ered as presupposed by all manifestation, and consequently as con- 
ditioning manifestation in all its modes, and it must always be 
traceable therein in one form or another ; 1 it is true that any such 
duality is in truth a complementarism and not an opposition; but 
two terms that are really complementary can appear from a rela- 
tively exterior or contingent point of view to be opposed . 2 All oppo- 
sition only exists as such at a certain level, for there can be no such 

1. As it is one of the linguistic errors that are of common occurrence and are 
not without serious inconveniences, it may be useful to state clearly here that ‘dual- 
ity’ and ‘dualism’ are two quite different things: dualism (of which the Cartesian 
conception of ‘spirit’ and ‘matter’ is among the best known examples) properly 
consists in regarding a duality as irreducible and in taking account of nothing 
beyond it, thereby denying the common principle from which the two terms of the 
duality really proceed by ‘polarization’. 

2. See The Symbolism of the Cross, chap. 7. 


thing as an irreducible opposition; at a higher level it is always 
resolved into a complementarism, in which its two terms are found 
to be reconciled and harmonized, until they return at last into the 
unity of the common principle from which they both proceed. It 
can therefore be said that the point of view of complementarism is 
in a certain sense intermediate between that of opposition and that 
of unification; and each of these points of view has its good reason 
and its own value in the order to which it applies, although the 
three are obviously not situated at the same level of reality; what 
matters therefore is to know how to put each aspect into its proper 
hierarchical place, and not to try to carry it over into a domain in 
which it would no longer have any valid significance. 

That being so, it is understandable that there is nothing in any 
way illegitimate in taking account of two contrary aspects in a sym- 
bol, and in addition that the consideration of either of these aspects 
in no way excludes the other, since each of them is equally true in a 
particular relation, and lastly even that by virtue of their correlation 
their existence is a single existence. It is therefore a mistake, and 
incidentally rather a common one, to suppose that the special con- 
sideration of one aspect or the other must be peculiar to doctrines 
or to schools that are themselves in opposition . 3 In such cases 
everything depends solely on the predominance that may be 
assigned to one or the other, and sometimes also on the intention 
with which the symbol is used, for example as an element taking 
part in particular rites, or again as a means of recognition for the 
members of particular organizations; but this is a point to which we 
shall return. The fact that the two aspects may be united in one and 
the same complex symbolical figuration shows clearly that they are 
not mutually exclusive and can be considered simultaneously; and 
in this connection it will be well to note, although there can be no 
question of developing the subject fully, that a duality, which can be 
an opposition or a complementarism according to the point of view 
adopted, can be arranged, so far as the relative situation of its terms 

3. Attention has been drawn elsewhere to a mistake of this kind in connection 
with the representation of the swastika with its arms turned so as to indicate oppo- 
site directions of rotation ( The Symbolism of the Cross , chap. 10). 

204 THE reign of quantity 

is concerned, either vertically or horizontally, this being an immedi- 
ate consequence of the cross-shaped arrangement of the quaternary, 
which can be resolved into two dualities, one vertical and the other 
horizontal. The vertical duality can be related to the two extremities 
of an axis or to the two contrary directions in which that axis may 
be followed; the horizontal duality is that of two elements situated 
symmetrically on either side of that same axis. As an example of the 
first case the two triangles of the seal of Solomon can be cited (as 
well as all other symbols of analogy disposed according to a similar 
geometrical arrangement), and as an example of the second the two 
serpents of the caduceus; and it will be noticed that only in the ver- 
tical duality are the two terms clearly distinguished one from the 
other by their reversed positions, whereas in the horizontal duality 
they can appear completely similar or equivalent when considered 
separately, although their significance is not really any less contrary 
in this case than in the other. It can also be said that in the spatial 
order the vertical duality is that of up and down, and the horizontal 
that of right and left; though this observation may perhaps seem 
rather too obvious, it nonetheless has its importance, because sym- 
bolically (and this leads back to the intrinsically qualitative value of 
the directions of space) these two pairs of terms are themselves sus- 
ceptible of multiple applications, traces of which could without 
difficulty be found even in current language, showing that matters 
of very general application are here in question. 

So much being established in principle, certain consequences 
may easily be deduced in connection with what could be called the 
practical use of symbols; but here a consideration of a more special 
kind must first be introduced, namely, that of the case in which the 
two contrary aspects are taken as ‘benefic’ and ‘malefic’ respectively. 
It must be made clear that these two terms are used for want of any 
better, as on a previous occasion; they have in fact the disadvantage 
of leading to a supposition that some more or less ‘moral’ interpre- 
tation is admitted, whereas really there is nothing of the kind, and 
the words must be understood "here in a purely ‘technical’ sense. 
Furthermore, it must be clearly understood that the ‘benefic’ or 
‘malefic’ quality is not attached absolutely to one or the other of the 
two aspects, because it appertains only to a special application which 


is such that all opposition, of whatever kind, could not possibly be 
brought indifferently within its range, and also because this quality 
would in any case necessarily disappear when the point of view of 
opposition is replaced by that of complementarism, to which any 
such consideration is wholly strange. Within these limits and after 
taking account of these reservations, the point of view of ‘benefi- 
cence’ or ‘maleficence’ has its normal place among all others; but it 
is also from this very point of view, or rather from the misuses to 
which it leads, that the subversion of the interpretation and use of 
symbolism now to be referred to may arise, a subversion constitut- 
ing one of the ‘marks’ characteristic of everything that is derived, 
consciously or otherwise, from the domain of the ‘counter-initia- 
tion’, or is more or less directly subject to its influence. 

This kind of subversion may consist either in attributing to the 
‘malefic’ aspect, while continuing to recognize it as such, the place 
that normally belongs to the ‘benefic’ aspect, even to the point of 
giving it a sort of supremacy over the latter, or alternatively in 
attributing to symbols a meaning opposite to their legitimate mean- 
ing, by treating as ‘benefic’ the aspect that is really ‘malefic’, or the 
other way round. It must also be noted that, in accordance with 
what was said above, a subversion of this kind may not appear visi- 
bly in the representation of the symbols, because there are some in 
which the two contrary aspects are not marked by any outward 
difference recognizable at first sight. Thus, in the figurations related 
to what is commonly but very improperly called ‘serpent-worship’, 
it would often be impossible, at least if only the serpent itself were 
considered, to say a priori whether the Agathodaimon or the Kako- 
daimon is symbolized; hence many misunderstandings arise, espe- 
cially on the part of those who are ignorant of the dual significance 
of the serpent and are tempted to see in it everywhere and always 
only a ‘malefic’ symbol, as has been in fact the case for a long time 
past with the generality of Westerners ; 4 and what has been said of 
the serpent could equally well be applied to many other symbolical 
animals, for it has become a habit for one reason or another no 

4. For the same reason the Far-Eastern Dragon itself, really a symbol of the 
Word, has often been taken by Western ignorance to be a ‘diabolical’ symbol. 

206 the reign of quantity 

longer to consider more than one of the two opposed aspects in 
reality borne by these animals. In the case of symbols that can be 
made to take up two opposite positions, and especially those that 
are reduced to geometrical forms, it might be thought that the 
difference ought to be much more clearly apparent; nevertheless it is 
not always so, because the two positions of the same symbol are 
each capable of carrying a legitimate meaning, also because their 
relation is not necessarily that of ‘beneficence’ and ‘maleficence’, for, 
let it be said once more, that relation is only a particular application 
among all others. What it is important to know in such a case is 
whether there can be said to be a real intention to ‘invert’ in such a 
way as formally to contradict the normal and legitimate value of the 
symbol; that is why, for example, the use of the inverted triangle is 
very far from being always a sign of ‘black magic’ as some people 
think , 5 although it certainly is so in some cases, namely, whenever it 
is accompanied by an intention to adopt an attitude opposed to 
what the triangle represents when its apex is turned upward. Inci- 
dentally, it may be remarked that an intentional ‘inversion’ of this 
kind can also be applied to words or to formulas, in such a way as to 
form various sorts of reversed mantras, as may be seen in certain of 
the practices of sorcery, even in the simple ‘country witchcraft’ such 
as still exists in the West. 

Thus it can be seen that the question of the inversion of symbols 
is rather complicated, and it might well also be described as rather 
delicate; for in order to know what the real position is in any partic- 
ular case it is necessary to examine, not so much the figurations seen 
in what may be called their ‘materiality’, as the accompanying inter- 
pretations which express the intention that dictated their adoption. 
And furthermore, the cleverest and most dangerous subversion is 
not the one that betrays itself by too obvious singularities easily 
noticed by anyone, but it is the one that deforms the meaning of 
symbols or reverses their import while making no change in their 
outward appearance. But the most diabolical trick of all is perhaps 
that which consists in attributing to the orthodox symbolism itself, 

5. Instances can even be found in which the inverted triangles occurring among 
the alchemical symbols of the elements have been interpreted in that sense. 


as it exists in truly traditional organizations and more especially in 
initiatic organizations (the latter being specially liable to attack in 
this case), the inverted interpretation that is specifically characteris- 
tic of the ‘counter-initiation’; and the ‘counter-initiation’ does not 
fail to take advantage of this method of promoting confusions and 
uncertainties when it can derive some profit from them. This is 
really the whole secret of certain campaigns, very significant in view 
of the character of the present period, conducted either against eso- 
terism in general or against any one initiatic form in particular, with 
the unconscious help of people who would be very astonished, and 
even appalled, if they could become aware of the use that is being 
made of them; unfortunately however it sometimes so happens that 
people who imagine that they are fighting the devil, whatever their 
particular notion of the devil may be, are thus turned, without the 
least suspicion of the fact on their part, into his best servants! 




The falsification of everything has been shown to be one of the 
characteristic features of our period, but falsification is not in itself 
subversion properly so called, though contributing fairly directly to 
the preparation for it. Perhaps the clearest indication of this is what 
may be called the falsification of language, taking the form of the 
misuse of certain words that have been diverted from their true 
meaning; misuse of this kind is to some extent imposed by constant 
suggestion on the part of everyone who exercises any kind of infl- 
uence over the mentality of the public. It is a case of something more 
than the mere degeneration alluded to earlier, whereby many words 
have come to lose their original qualitative meaning, keeping only 
one that is purely quantitative; it is more a question of a ‘diversion’, 
whereby words are applied to things that they do not fit in any way, 
and sometimes in a sense directly opposed to their normal meaning. 
This is one of the most obvious symptoms of the intellectual confu- 
sion that reigns everywhere in the present world; but it must not be 
forgotten that this very confusion is willed by that which lies hidden 
behind the whole modern deviation; this thought obtrudes itself 
particularly in view of the simultaneous appearance in many differ- 
ent quarters of attempts to make illegitimate use of the very idea of 
‘tradition’ by people who want improperly to assimilate its signifi- 
cance to their own conceptions in' one domain or another. Of course 
there is no question of suspecting the good faith of any particular 
party, for very often it may be a case of mere incomprehension and 
nothing more, the ignorance of most of our contemporaries about 


anything possessing a truly traditional character being so complete 
that this need cause no surprise. Nevertheless it must also be recog- 
nized that such errors of interpretation and involuntary misconcep- 
tions serve the purpose of certain ‘plans’ so well that it is permissible 
to wonder whether their growing diffusion may not be due to some 
of the ‘suggestions’ that dominate the modern mentality, all of 
which lead ultimately to nothing less than the destruction of all that 
is tradition in the true sense of the word. 

The modern mentality itself, in everything that characterizes it 
specifically as such (and this must be said once more, for it is some- 
thing that cannot be too often insisted on), is no more than the 
product of a vast collective suggestion, which has operated continu- 
ously for several centuries and has determined the formation and 
progressive development of the anti-traditional spirit; and in that 
spirit the whole of the distinctive features of the modern mentality 
are comprised. Nevertheless, however powerful and clever the sug- 
gestion may be, a moment may always come when the resulting 
state of disorder and disequilibrium becomes so apparent that some 
cannot fail to become aware of it, and then there is a risk of a ‘reac- 
tion’ that might compromise the desired result. It certainly seems 
that matters have today just reached that stage, and it is noticeable 
that this moment coincides exactly, by a sort of ‘immanent logic’, 
with the moment at which the merely negative phase of the modern 
deviation comes to an end, the phase represented by the complete 
and unrivaled domination of the materialistic mentality. This is 
where the falsification of the traditional idea comes in with great 
effect; it is made possible by the ignorance already mentioned, itself 
but one of the products of the negative phase; the very idea of tradi- 
tion has been destroyed to such an extent that those who aspire to 
recover it no longer know which way to turn, and are only too ready 
to accept all the false ideas presented to them in its place and under 
its name. Such people may have become aware, at least up to a 
point, that they had been deceived by openly anti-traditional sug- 
gestions, and that the beliefs imposed on them represented only 
error and deceit; that is certainly a change in the direction of the 
reaction’ alluded to, but no effective result could accrue if nothing 
further were to happen. This is clear enough from the growing 


quantity of literature containing the most pertinent criticisms of 
our present civilization, but contemplating measures for the cure of 
the evils so rightly denounced that are, as indicated earlier, curi- 
ously disproportionate and insignificant, and often more or less 
infantile: such proposals can be said to be ‘scholarly’ or ‘academic’ 
and nothing more, and there is anyhow nothing in them that gives 
evidence of the least knowledge of a profound order. This is the 
stage at which the effort made, however praiseworthy and meritori- 
ous it may be, can easily allow itself to be turned aside toward activ- 
ities that will, in their own way and despite appearances, only 
contribute in the end to the further growth of the disorder and con- 
fusion of the ‘civilization’, the rectification of which they were 
intended to bring about. 

The people just referred to are such as can properly be described 
as ‘traditionalists’, meaning people who only have a sort of tendency 
or aspiration toward tradition without really knowing anything at 
all about it; this is the measure of the distance dividing the ‘tradi- 
tionalist’ spirit from the truly traditional spirit, for the latter implies 
a real knowledge, being indeed in a sense the same as that knowl- 
edge. In short, the ‘traditionalist’ is and can be no more than a mere 
‘seeker’, and that is why he is always in danger of going astray, not 
being in possession of the principles that alone could provide him 
with infallible guidance; and his danger is all the greater because he 
will find in his path, like so many ambushes, all the false ideas set on 
foot by the power of illusion, which has a keen interest in prevent- 
ing him from reaching the true goal of his search. It is indeed evi- 
dent that this power can only maintain itself and continue to 
exercise its action on condition that all restoration of the traditional 
idea is made impossible, and more than ever so when it is preparing 
to take a further step in the direction of subversion, subversion 
being, as explained, the second phase of its action. So it is quite as 
important for the power in question to divert searchings tending 
toward traditional knowledge as it is to divert those concerned with 
the origins or real causes of the ntodern deviation, and thus liable to 
reveal something of the true nature of the said power and the means 
of its influence; these two devices are both necessary and in a sense 
complementary, and they could fairly be regarded as the positive 


and negative aspects of a single plan of action having domination as 
its objective. 

All misuses of the word ‘tradition’ can serve this same purpose in 
one way or another, beginning with the most popular of all, 
whereby it is made synonymous with ‘custom’ or ‘usage’, thus bring- 
ing about a confusion of tradition with things that are on the lower 
human level and are completely lacking in profound significance. 
But there are other and more subtle deformations, all the more dan- 
gerous because of their subtlety, that share the common character- 
istic of bringing the idea of tradition down to a purely human level, 
whereas on the contrary there is nothing and can be nothing truly 
traditional that does not contain some element of a supra-human 
order. This indeed is the essential point, containing as it were the 
very definition of tradition and all that appertains to it; this is also 
therefore the very point that must on no account be allowed to 
emerge if the modern mentality is to be maintained in its state of 
delusion, and still more if it is to have yet other delusions imposed 
on it, such as will not only suppress any tendency toward a restora- 
tion of the supra-human, but will also direct the modern mentality 
more effectively toward the worst modalities of the infra-human. 
Moreover, in order to become aware of the importance assigned to 
the negation of the supra-human by the conscious and unconscious 
agents of the modern deviation, it is enough to observe how all who 
lay claim to be ‘historians’ of religion and of other forms of the tra- 
dition (and in any case they usually mix all these forms together 
under the general title of ‘religion’) are eager above all to explain 
everything in terms of exclusively human factors; it matters little 
whether, according to school of thought, these factors are psycho- 
logical, social, or anything else, the very multiplicity of the different 
explanations facilitating the seduction of a greater number; com- 
mon to all is the well-defined desire to reduce everything to the 
human level and to retain nothing that surpasses it; and those who 
believe in the value of this destructive ‘criticism’ are thenceforth 
very ready to confuse tradition with anything whatever, since there 
is nothing in the ideas inculcated into them such as might enable 
tradition to be distinguished from that which is wholly lacking in 
traditional character. 


Granted that nothing that is of a purely human order can for that 
very reason legitimately be called ‘traditional’, there cannot possibly 
be, for instance, a ‘philosophical tradition’ or a ‘scientific tradition’ 
in the modern and profane sense of the words, any more, of course, 
than there can be a ‘political tradition’, at least where all traditional 
social organization is lacking, as is the case in the modern Western 
world. Such expressions are nevertheless in common use today, each 
in its way denaturing the idea of tradition; and it is obvious that if 
the ‘traditionalists’ referred to above can be persuaded to allow their 
activity to be turned aside toward one or another of these domains 
and to confine their activity to it, their aspirations will be ‘neutral- 
ized’ and rendered perfectly harmless, and may even sometimes be 
used without their knowledge for a purpose exactly contrary to 
what they intend. Indeed it sometimes happens that people go so far 
as to apply the word ‘tradition’ to things that by their very nature are 
as directly anti-traditional as possible: thus they talk about a 
‘humanist tradition’, and a ‘national tradition’, despite the fact that 
humanism is nothing if not an explicit denial of the supra-human, 
and the formation of ‘nationalities’ was the means employed for the 
destruction of the traditional civilization of the Middle Ages. In the 
circumstances it would not be surprising if people began one day to 
talk about a ‘protestant tradition’ or even a ‘lay tradition’ or a ‘revo- 
lutionary tradition’ or if the materialists themselves ended by pro- 
claiming themselves the defenders of a ‘tradition’, if only in their 
capacity as the representatives of something already belonging in a 
great measure to the past! Most of our contemporaries have reached 
such a state of mental confusion that associations of the most mani- 
festly contradictory words bring about no reaction on their part and 
do not even provide them with food for thought. 

This leads at once to another important observation: when a few 
people have become conscious of the disorder of these days owing 
to the all too obvious effects of its present stage of development 
(more particularly since the stage corresponding to a maximum 
of ‘solidification’ has been left behind), and when these people try 
to ‘react’ in one way or another, the best means for making their 
desire for ‘reaction’ ineffective is surely to direct it toward one of the 
earlier and less ‘advanced’ stages of the same deviation, some stage 


in which disorder had not yet become so apparent, and was as it 
were presented under an outward aspect more acceptable to anyone 
not yet completely blinded by certain suggestions. Anyone who 
considers himself a ‘traditionalist’ must normally declare himself 
‘anti-modern’, but he may not be any the less affected, though he be 
unaware of the fact, by modern ideas in a more or less attenuated 
form; they are then less easily detected, but they always correspond 
in fact to one or another of the stages passed through by these same 
ideas in the course of their development; no concession, even 
unconscious or involuntary, is admissible on this point, for from 
the very beginning up to the present day, and beyond that too, 
everything holds together and is inexorably interlinked. In that con- 
nection, this much more must be said: the work that has as its 
object to prevent all ‘reaction’ from aiming at anything further back 
than a return to a lesser disorder, while at the same time concealing 
the character of the lesser disorder so that it may pass as ‘order’, fits 
in very exactly with the other work carried out with a view to secur- 
ing the penetration of the modern spirit into the interior of what- 
ever is left of traditional organizations of any kind in the West; the 
same ‘neutralizing’ effect on forces of which the opposition might 
become formidable is obtained in both cases. Moreover, something 
more than mere ‘neutralization’ is involved, for a struggle must nec- 
essarily take place between the elements thus brought together as it 
were on the same level and on the same ground, and their recipro- 
cal enmity is therefore no more than an enmity between the various 
and apparently opposed productions of one and the same modern 
deviation; thus the final result can only be a fresh increase in disor- 
der and confusion, which simply amounts to one more step toward 
final dissolution. 

As between all the more or less incoherent things that are today 
in constant agitation and mutual collision, as between all external 
‘movements’ of whatever kind they may be, there is no occasion to 
take sides’, to use the common expression, whether from a tradi- 
tional or from a merely ‘traditionalist’ point of view, for to do so is 
to become a dupe. Since the same influences are really operating 
behind all these things, it is really playing their game to join in the 
struggles promoted and directed by them; therefore the mere fact of 

214 THE reign of quantity 

‘taking sides’ under such conditions is necessarily to adopt, however 
unwittingly, a truly anti-traditional attitude. No particular applica- 
tions need be specified here, but it must at least be made clear in a 
general way that in all this agitation principles are always and every- 
where lacking, despite the fact that ‘principles’ have surely never 
been so much talked about as they are today on all sides, the word 
being commonly applied more or less regardlessly to things that are 
least worthy of it, and sometimes even to things that imply the 
negation of all true principle. This particular misuse of a word is 
again highly significant of the real trend of the falsification of lan- 
guage already well exemplified by the perversion of the word ‘tradi- 
tion’; that example has been specially stressed because it is most 
closely connected with the subject of this study, insofar as the latter 
is intended to give a picture of the last phases of the cyclical 
‘descent’. It is not in fact possible to stop short at the point that rep- 
resents most nearly the apogee of the ‘reign of quantity’, for what 
follows that point is too closely connected with what precedes it to 
allow of any separation being made otherwise than quite artificially; 
no ‘abstractions’ are therefore admitted here, for they only represent 
a particular form of the ‘simplification’ so dear to the modern men- 
tality; on the contrary, the object is as far as possible to present real- 
ity as it is, without omitting anything that is essential for the 
understanding of the conditions of the present period. 



In the previous chapter there was occasion to refer to people 
who would like to react against the existing disorder, but have not 
the knowledge necessary to enable them to do so effectively, and so 
are ‘neutralized’ in one way or another and directed into blind 
alleys; but in addition to these people there are also others who are 
only too easily driven yet further along the road leading to subver- 
sion. The pretext put before the latter, as things are at present, is 
most often that of ‘fighting materialism’, and no doubt most of 
them believe sincerely that they are doing so; but people in the first- 
named category who want to live up to this belief merely end up in 
the dreariness of a vague ‘spiritualist’ philosophy that is without any 
real significance but is at least relatively harmless, whereas those in 
the second category are moving toward the domain of the worst 
psychic delusions, and that is far more dangerous. The former are 
indeed all more or less affected unknowingly by the modern spirit, 
but not deeply enough to be entirely blinded by it, but it is the latter 
whom we must now consider, and they are wholly penetrated by it, 
and moreover they usually glory in their ‘modernity’; the only thing 
that horrifies them among all the various manifestations of the 
modern spirit is materialism, and they are so fascinated by this one 
idea that they do not see that many other things, such as the science 
and the industry they admire, are closely dependent, both in their 
origin and in their intrinsic nature, on the very materialism that so 
distresses them. This makes it easy to see why the sort of attitude 
they display must now be encouraged and spread: such people are 
the best unconscious auxiliaries it would be possible to find for the 
second phase of anti- traditional action. Materialism has nearly 
played its part, and these are the people to spread its successor about 

216 the reign of quantity 

the world: they will even be used to assist actively in opening the 
‘fissures’ spoken of earlier, for in this domain it is not merely ‘ideas’ 
or theories of one sort or another that count, but also and simulta- 
neously a ‘practice’ that will bring them into direct relations with 
subtle forces of the lowest order; and they lend themselves all the 
more readily to this work owing to their total ignorance of the true 
nature of such forces, to which they go so far as to attribute a ‘spiri- 
tual’ character. 

This is what has in a general way been described as ‘neo-spiritual- 
ism’, to distinguish it from mere philosophical ‘spiritualism’; it 
might be sufficient only to mention it here for the purpose of ‘put- 
ting it on record’, since two earlier studies have been specially 
devoted to its most widespread forms , 1 but it is too important an 
element among those that are specially characteristic of the contem- 
porary period to justify the omission of some mention at least of its 
main features, keeping back for the moment the ‘pseudo-initiatic’ 
aspect of the work of most of the schools attached to it (with the 
exception of the spiritualist schools that are openly profane and 
must be so owing to the exigencies of their extreme ‘populariza- 
tion’), for that is a matter that will have to be returned to later. First 
of all it should be noted that there is no question of a homogenous 
whole, but of something that assumes a multitude of different 
forms, though they always show enough common characteristics to 
admit of being legitimately grouped together under one designa- 
tion; it is therefore all the more strange that all such groups, schools, 
and ‘movements’ are constantly in a state of rivalry or even of con- 
flict one with another, to such an extent that it would be difficult to 
find elsewhere, except perhaps between political ‘parties’, hatreds 
more violent than those that exist between their adherents, while all 
the time, by a curious irony, they all have a mania for preaching ‘fra- 
ternity’ in season and out of season! Here is a truly ‘chaotic’ phe- 
nomenon, which may give the impression even to superficial 
observers of disorder carried to an extreme: it is indeed an indica- 
tion that ‘neo-spiritualism’ already represents a fairly advanced 
stage on the road to dissolution. 

1 . The Spiritist Fallacy and Theosophy. History of a Pseudo- Religion. 


On the other hand, in spite of the aversion it evinces toward 
materialism, ‘neo-spiritualism’ resembles it in more than one way, 
so much so that it has been referred to not unjustly as ‘transposed 
materialism’, meaning materialism extended beyond the limits of 
the corporeal world, this being clearly exemplified by the crude rep- 
resentations of the subtle world, wrongly called ‘spiritual’, already 
alluded to and consisting almost entirely of images borrowed from 
the corporeal domain. This same ‘neo-spiritualism’ is also attached 
to the earlier stages of the modern deviation, in a more effective way, 
through what may be called its ‘scientistic’ side; that too has been 
previously alluded to when dealing with the influence exerted on the 
various schools from the moment of their birth by scientific 
‘mythology’; and it is worthwhile to note more especially the impor- 
tant part played in these conceptions, in quite a general way and 
without any exception, by ‘progressivist’ and ‘evolutionary’ ideas, 
which are indeed among the most typical features of the modern 
mentality, and would suffice by themselves to characterize any con- 
ceptions as being beyond all doubt the products of that mentality. 
Moreover, even the schools that affect an appearance of ‘archaism’ 
by making use in their own way of fragments of uncomprehended 
and deformed traditional ideas, or by disguising modern ideas as 
they think fit under a vocabulary borrowed from some traditional 
form either Eastern or Western (all of which things, by the way, are 
in formal contradiction to their belief in ‘progress’ and ‘evolution’), 
are constantly preoccupied in adapting these ancient ideas, or what 
are imagined to be such, to the theories of modern science. This 
work has of course continually to be done afresh as the scientific 
theories change, though it is true that those who undertake it find 
their task simplified by their almost universal reliance on material 
drawn from works of ‘popularization’. 

Apart from this, ‘neo-spiritualism’ is also, on the side alluded to 
above as ‘practical’, closely in conformity with the ‘experimental’ 
tendencies of the modern mentality. In this way it has gradually 
come to exert an appreciable influence on science itself, into which 
it has more or less insinuated itself by means of what is called 
‘metapsychics’. Doubtless the phenomena considered in ‘metapsy- 
chics’ are in themselves just as worthy of study as are those of the 

218 the reign of quantity 

corporeal world; but what gives rise to objection is the way in which 
the study is undertaken, that is, the application to it of the point of 
view of profane science; physicists (who are so obstinate in sticking 
to their quantitative methods as to want to try to ‘weigh the soul’!) 
and even psychologists in the ‘official’ sense of the word, are surely 
as ill-prepared as possible for a study of this kind, and for that very 
reason more liable than anyone else to allow themselves to be 
deluded in every way . 2 And there is something more: in actual fact 
‘metapsychic’ researches are scarcely ever undertaken indepen- 
dently of all support from ‘neo-spiritualists’, and especially from 
‘spiritists’, and this proves that these people fully intend that the 
researches shall serve the purposes of their propaganda. Perhaps the 
most serious thing in this connection is that the experimenters are 
so placed that they find themselves obliged to have recourse to 
spirit ‘mediums’, that is, to individuals whose preconceived ideas 
markedly modify the phenomena in question, and give them what 
might be called a special ‘coloring’, and who moreover have been 
drilled with particular care (for there are even ‘schools for medi- 
ums’) so as to serve as instruments and passive ‘supports’ to certain 
influences belonging to the lowest depths of the subtle world; and 
they act as ‘vehicles’ of these influences wherever they go, so that 
nobody, scientist or otherwise, can fail to be dangerously affected if 
he comes into contact with them and if he is, through ignorance of 
what lies behind it all, totally incapable of defending himself. Fur- 
ther insistence on this aspect of affairs is unnecessary, because it has 
been fully dealt with in other works, to which anyone who would 
like to have a fuller account of them may now be referred; but it is 
worthwhile, because it is something entirely peculiar to the present 
day, to underline the strangeness of the part played by the ‘medi- 
ums’ and of the supposed necessity of their presence for the pro- 
duction of phenomena arising in the subtle world. Why was there 
nothing of that kind formerly, for forces of that order were in no 

2. It is a question here, not so much of the more or less important part to be 
assigned to fraud, conscious or unconscious, but also of delusions as to the nature 
of the forces that intervene in the actual production of the phenomena called 


way prevented by that fact from manifesting themselves spontane- 
ously in certain circumstances, and on a far larger scale than in 
spiritist or ‘metapsychic’ seances (and very often in uninhabited 
houses or in desert places, whereby the too convenient hypothesis 
of the presence of a medium unconscious of his own powers is 
excluded)? It may be wondered whether some change has not come 
about, since the appearance of spiritualism, in the very manner in 
which the subtle world acts in its ‘interferences’ with the corporeal 
world: such a change would only be a fresh example of modifica- 
tions in the environment such as has already been considered in 
connection with the effects of materialism; but the one thing certain 
in any case is that there is something here that fits in perfectly with 
the exigencies of a ‘control’ exerted over inferior psychic influences, 
themselves already essentially ‘malefic’, in order that they may be 
used more directly with certain defined ends in view, in conformity 
with the pre-established ‘plan’ of the work of subversion, for which 
purpose they are now being ‘unchained’ in our world. 




In the domain of philosophy and psychology, the tenden- 
cies corresponding to the second phase of anti-traditional action 
are naturally marked by the importance assigned to the ‘subcon- 
scious’ in all its forms, in other words to the most inferior psychic 
elements of the human being, something particularly apparent so 
far as philosophy properly so called is concerned in the theories of 
William lames as well as in the ‘intuitionism’ of Bergson. The work 
of Bergson has been considered in an earlier chapter, in relation to 
the justifiable criticisms of rationalism and its consequences formu- 
lated therein, though never very clearly and often in equivocal 
terms; but the characteristic feature of what may be called (if the 
term be admissible) the ‘positive’ part of his philosophy is that, 
instead of seeking above reason for something that might remedy its 
insufficiencies, he takes the opposite course and seeks beneath it; 
thus, instead of turning toward true intellectual intuition, of which 
he is as completely ignorant as are the rationalists, he appeals to an 
imagined ‘intuition’ of an exclusively sensitive and ‘vital’ order, and 
in the very confused notions that emerge the intuition of the senses 
properly so called is mingled with the most obscure forces of 
instinct and sentiment. So it is not as a result of a more or less ‘for- 
tuitous’ encounter that Bergson’s ‘intuitionism’ has manifest affini- 
ties, particularly marked in what may be called its ‘final state’ (and 
this applies equally to the philosophy of William James), with ‘neo- 
spiritualism’, but it is as a result of the fact that both are expressions 
of the same tendencies: the attitude of the one in relation to ratio- 
nalism is more or less parallel to that of the other in relation to 


materialism, the one leaning toward the ‘sub-rational’ just as the 
other leans toward the ‘sub-corporeal’ (doubtless no less uncon- 
sciously), so that the direction followed in both cases is undoubt- 
edly toward the ‘infra-human’. 

This is not the place for a detailed examination of these theories, 
but attention must at least be called to certain features closely con- 
nected with the subject of this book. The first is their ‘evolutionism’, 
which remains unbroken and is carried to an extreme, for all reality 
is placed exclusively within ‘becoming’, involving the formal denial 
of all immutable principle, and consequently of all metaphysics; 
hence their ‘fleeting’ and inconsistent quality, which really affords, 
in contrast with the rationalist and materialist ‘solidification’, 
something like a prefiguration of the dissolution of all things in the 
final chaos. A significant example is found in Bergson’s view of reli- 
gion, which is set out appropriately enough in a work of his exem- 
plifying the ‘final state’ mentioned above . 1 Not that there is really 
anything new in that work, for the origins of the thesis maintained 
are in fact very simple: in this field all modern theories have as a 
common feature the desire to bring religion down to a purely 
human level, which amounts to denying it, consciously or other- 
wise, since it really represents a refusal to take account of what is its 
very essence; and Bergson’s conception does not differ from the oth- 
ers in that respect. 

These theories of religion, taken as a whole, can be grouped into 
two main types: one is ‘psychological’ and claims to explain religion 
by the nature of the human individual, and the other is ‘sociologi- 
cal’ and tries to see in religion a fact of an exclusively social kind, the 
product of a sort of ‘collective consciousness’ imagined as dominat- 
ing individuals and imposing itself on them. Bergson’s originality 
consists only in having tried to combine these two sorts of explana- 
tion, and he does so in rather a curious way: instead of considering 
them as more or less mutually exclusive, as do most of the partisans 
of one or the other, he accepts both explanations, but relates them 
to two different things, each called by the same name of ‘religion’, 
the ‘two sources’ of religion postulated by him really amounting to 

1 . The Two Sources of Morality and Religion. 


that and nothing more . 2 For him therefore there are two sorts of 
religion, one ‘static’ and the other ‘dynamic’, alternatively and 
somewhat oddly called by him ‘closed religion’ and ‘open religion’; 
the first is social in its nature and the second psychological; and nat- 
urally his preference is for the second, which he regards as the supe- 
rior form of religion— we say ‘naturally’ because it is very evident 
that it could not be otherwise in a ‘philosophy of becoming’ such as 
his, since from that point of view whatever does not change does 
not correspond to anything real, and even prevents man from 
grasping the real such as it is imagined to be. But someone will say 
that a philosophy of this kind, since it admits of no ‘eternal truths ’, 3 
must logically refuse all value not only to metaphysics but also to 
religion; and that is exactly what happens, for religion in the true 
sense of the word is just what Bergson calls ‘static religion’, in which 
he chooses to see nothing but a wholly imaginary ‘story-telling’; as 
for his ‘dynamic religion’, the truth is that it is not religion at all. 

His so-called ‘dynamic religion’ in fact contains none of the char- 
acteristic elements that go to make up the definition of religion: 
there are no dogmas, since they are immutable or, as Bergson says, 
‘fixed’; no more, of course, are there any rites, for the same reason 
and because of their social character, dogmas and rites necessarily 
being left to ‘static religion’; and as for morality, Bergson starts by 
setting it aside as something quite outside religion as he under- 
stands it. So there is nothing left, or at least nothing is left but a 
vague ‘religiosity’, a sort of confused aspiration toward an ‘ideal’ of 
some description, rather near to the aspirations of modernists and 
liberal Protestants, and reminiscent in many respects of the ‘reli- 
gious experience’ of William James, for all these things are obviously 
very closely connected. This ‘religiosity’ is taken by Bergson to be a 
superior kind of religion, for he thinks, like all those who follow the 
same tendencies, that he is ‘sublimating’ religion, whereas all he is 

2. So far as morality is concerned, it is not of special interest here, but the expla- 
nation of it proposed by Bergson is of course parallel to his explanation of religion. 

3. It is worthy of note that Bergson seems to avoid the use of the word ‘truth, 
and that he almost always uses instead the word ‘reality’, a word that in his view sig- 
nifies that which undergoes continual change. 


doing is to empty it of all positive content, since there is nothing in 
religion compatible with his conceptions. Such notions are no 
doubt all that can be extracted from a psychological theory, for 
experience has failed to show that any such theory can get beyond 
‘religious feeling’— and that, once more, is not religion. In Bergson’s 
eyes ‘dynamic religion’ finds its highest expression in ‘mysticism’, 
which however he does not understand and sees on its worst side, 
for he only praises it for whatever in it is ‘individual’, that is to say, 
vague, inconsistent, and in a sense ‘anarchic’; and the best examples 
of this kind of mysticism, though he does not quote them, could be 
found in certain teachings of occultist and Theosophist inspiration. 
What really pleases him about the mystics, it must be stated categor- 
ically, is their tendency to ‘divagation’ in the etymological sense of 
the word, which they show only too readily when left to themselves. 
As for that which is the very foundation of true mysticism, leaving 
aside its more or less abnormal or ‘eccentric’ deviations (which may 
or may not strike one’s fancy), its attachment to a ‘static religion’ he 
evidently regards as negligible; nevertheless one feels that there is 
something here that worries him, for his explanations concerning it 
are somewhat embarrassed; but a fuller examination of this ques- 
tion would lead too far away from what for present purposes are its 

To return to ‘static religion’: so far as its supposed origins are 
concerned, it will be seen that Bergson trustfully accepts all the tales 
of the all too well known ‘sociological school’, including those that 
are most worthy of suspicion: ‘magic’, ‘totemism’, ‘taboo’, ‘mana’, 
‘animal worship’, ‘spirit worship’, and ‘primitive mentality’, nothing 
being missing of the conventional jargon or of the accustomed triv- 
ialities, if such expressions may be allowed (as indeed they must be 
when discussing matters so grotesque in character). The only thing 
for which he is perhaps really responsible is the place he assigns to a 
so-called ‘fable-making function’, which seems to be much more 
fabulous than that which it seeks to explain: but he had to invent 
some sort of theory to allow of the comprehensive denial of the 
existence of any real foundation of those things that are commonly 
treated as ‘superstitions’, a ‘civilized’ philosophy, and more than 
that, a ‘twentieth-century’ philosophy, evidently considering that 

224 THE reign of quantity 

any other attitude would be unworthy of itself. In all this there is 
only one point of present interest, that concerning ‘magic’; magic is 
a great resource for certain theorists, who clearly have no idea of 
what it really is, but who try to find in it the origin both of religion 
and of science. Bergson’s position is not precisely that: he seeks for a 
‘psychological origin’ in magic, and turns it into ‘the exteriorization 
of a desire that fills the heart,’ and he makes out that ‘if one recon- 
stitutes by an effort of introspection the natural reaction of man to 
his perception of things, one finds that magic and religion are con- 
nected, and that there is nothing in common between magic and 
science.’ It is true that later on he wavers: if one adopts a certain 
point of view, ‘magic evidently forms part of religion,’ but from 
another point of view ‘religion is opposed to magic’; he is clearer 
when he asserts that ‘magic is the opposite of science’ and that ‘far 
from preparing for the coming of science, as has been supposed, 
magic has been the great obstacle against which methodical learn- 
ing has had to contend.’ All that is almost exactly the reverse of the 
truth, for magic has absolutely nothing to do with religion, and, 
while admittedly not the origin of all the sciences, it is simply a sin- 
gle science among the others; but Bergson is no doubt quite con- 
vinced that no sciences can exist other than those enumerated in 
modern ‘classifications’, established from the most narrowly pro- 
fane point of view imaginable. Speaking of ‘magical operations’ 
with the imperturbable self-assurance of one who has never seen 
any , 4 he writes this remarkable sentence: ‘If primitive intelligence 
had begun its dealings with such matters by conceiving principles, it 

4. It is most regrettable that Bergson was on bad terms with his sister, Mrs S. 
S.L. MacGregor Mathers (alias ‘Soror Vestigia Nulla Retrorsum’) who might have 
been able to give him a little instruction in such matters. [S.S.L MacGregor 
Mathers, author of The Kabbalah Unveiled, was a leading figure in various occult 
organizations in the early twentieth century, primarily in England, and is known 
especially for his role in the founding of The Order of the Golden Dawn, whence 
the ‘initiatic’ name given for his wife deriyes. Mrs Mathers was herself very active in 
all these matters. For a time the Order of the Golden Dawn attracted a number of 
figures who became well-known in later years, including William Butler Yeats (on 
whom both of the Mathers exerted a strong influence for a time) and Arthur 
Edward Waite. Ed.] 


would soon have had to give way to experience, which would have 
demonstrated their falsity.’ One can admire the intrepidity of this 
philosopher, shut into his private room, and well protected against 
the attacks of certain influences that undoubtedly would not hesi- 
tate to take advantage of him as an auxiliary no less valuable than 
unwitting, when he denies a priori everything that does not fit into 
the framework of his theories. How can he think that men were stu- 
pid enough to have repeated indefinitely, even without ‘principles’, 
‘operations’ that were never successful, and what would he say if it 
should be found, on the contrary, that experience ‘demonstrates the 
falsity’ of his own assertions? Obviously he does not even imagine 
the possibility of anything of that kind; such is the strength of the 
preconceived ideas in him and in those like him that they do not 
doubt for a single instant that the world is strictly confined within 
the measure of their conceptions (this in fact being what allows 
them to construct ‘systems’); and how can a philosopher be 
expected to understand that he ought to refrain, just like an ordi- 
nary mortal, from talking of things he knows nothing about? 

Now it is particularly worthy of note, and highly significant as 
regards the reality of the connection between Bergsonian ‘intuition- 
ism’ and the second phase of anti-traditional action, that magic, by 
an ironical turn of affairs, is now cruelly avenging the denials of our 
philosopher. It has reappeared in our days, through the recent 
‘fissures’ in our world, in a form that is at once the lowest and the 
most rudimentary, in the disguise of ‘psychic science’ (the very 
thing that some people prefer to call, rather unfortunately, ‘meta- 
psychics’), and it succeeds in securing admission thereto, while 
avoiding recognition not only as something very real, but also as 
destined to play a leading part in the future of Bergson’s ‘dynamic 
religion’! This is no exaggeration: he speaks of ‘survival’ just like any 
common spiritist, and he believes in a ‘deepening of the range of 
experiment’ making it possible to come to a ‘conclusion as to the 
possibility and even the probability of a survival of the soul’ (what 
exactly does that mean, and is it not apparent that he is thinking of 
the phantasmagoria of ‘psychic corpses’?), but without the possibil- 
ity of knowing whether it will be ‘for a time or for ever.’ But this last 
annoying limitation does not prevent him from proclaiming in 


dithyrambic tones: ‘No more than this is needed in order to turn 
into a living and active reality a belief in a life after death such as is 
met with in most men, though it is usually verbal, abstract, 

ineffective Indeed, if we were sure, absolutely sure, of survival 

we could no longer think of anything else.’ The ancient magic was 
more ‘scientific’ than this, in the true sense of the word, if not in the 
profane sense, and it had not the same pretensions; but in order 
that some of its most elementary phenomena should give rise to 
interpretations of this kind it was necessary to wait for the inven- 
tion of spiritualism, which could not come to birth until a late stage 
of the modern deviation had been reached. It is in fact the spiritual- 
ist theory concerning such phenomena, that and nothing else, that 
is finally accepted by Bergson, as it was by William James before 
him, with ‘a joy’ that makes ‘all pleasures pale’ (this incredible state- 
ment, with which his book ends, is quoted word for word). His ‘joy’ 
establishes for us the degree of discernment of which this philoso- 
pher is capable, for as far as his good faith is concerned, that cer- 
tainly is not in question, and profane philosophers are usually not 
suited to act otherwise than as dupes in cases of this kind, thus serv- 
ing as unconscious intermediaries for the hoaxing of many others: 
but apart from that, talking of ‘superstition’, never before has there 
been so good an example of it, and it is this fact that gives the best 
idea of the real worth of all the ‘new philosophy’, as its partisans are 
pleased to call it! 



In passing from philosophy to psychology it will be found 
that identical tendencies appear once again in the latter, and in the 
most recent schools of psychology they assume a far more danger- 
ous aspect, for instead of taking the form of mere theoretical postu- 
lates they are given practical applications of a very disturbing 
character; the most ‘representative’ of these new methods, from the 
point of view of the present study, are those grouped under the gen- 
eral heading of ‘psychoanalysis’. It may be noted that, by a curious 
inconsistency, their handling of elements indubitably belonging to 
the subtle order continues to be accompanied in many psycholo- 
gists by a materialistic attitude, no doubt because of their earlier 
training, as well as because of their present ignorance of the true 
nature of the elements they are bringing into play ; 1 is it not one of 
the strangest characteristics of modern science that it never knows 
exactly what the object of its studies really is, even when only the 
forces of the corporeal domain are in question? It goes without say- 
ing too that there is a kind of ‘laboratory psychology’, the end- 
point of the process of limitation and of materialization of which 

1. The case of Freud himself, founder of ‘psychoanalysis’, is quite typical in this 
respect, for he never ceased to declare himself a materialist. One further remark: 
why is it that the principal representatives of the new tendencies, like Einstein in 
physics, Bergson in philosophy, Freud in psychology, and many others of less 
importance, are almost all of Jewish origin, unless it be because there is something 
involved that is closely bound up with the ‘malefic’ and dissolving aspect of nomad- 
ism when it is deviated, and because that aspect must inevitably predominate in 
Jews detached from their tradition? 


the ‘philosophico-literary’ psychology of university teaching was 
but a less advanced stage, and now no more than a sort of accessory 
branch of psychology, which still continues to coexist with the new 
theories and methods; to this branch apply the preceding observa- 
tions on the attempts that have been made to reduce psychology 
itself to a quantitative science. 

There is certainly something more than a mere question of 
vocabulary in the fact, very significant in itself, that present-day 
psychology considers nothing but the ‘subconscious’, and never 
the ‘superconscious’, which ought logically to be its correlative; 
there is no doubt that this usage expresses the idea of an extension 
operating only in a downward direction, that is, toward the aspect 
of things that corresponds, both here in the human being and else- 
where in the cosmic environment, to the ‘fissures’ through which 
the most ‘malefic’ influences of the subtle world penetrate, infl- 
uences having a character than can truthfully and literally be 
described as ‘infernal ’. 2 There are also some who adopt the term 
‘unconscious’ as a synonym or equivalent of ‘subconscious’, and 
this term, taken literally, would seem to refer to an even lower level, 
but as a matter of fact it only corresponds less closely to reality; if 
the object of study were really unconscious it is difficult to see how 
it could be spoken of at all, especially in psychological terms; and 
besides, what good reason is there, other than mere materialistic 
and mechanistic prejudice, for assuming that anything unconscious 
really exists? However that may be, there is another thing worthy of 
note, and that is the strange illusion which leads psychologists to 
regard states as being more ‘profound’ when they are quite simply 
more inferior; is not this already an indication of the tendency to 
run counter to spirituality, which alone can be truly profound since 
it alone touches the principle and the very center of the being? Cor- 
respondingly, since the domain of psychology is not extended 
upward, the ‘superconscious’ naturally remains as strange to it and 
as cut off from it as ever; and when psychology happens to meet 

2 . It may be noted in this connection that Freud put at the head of his The Inter- 
pretation of Dreams the following very significant epigram: Flectere si nequeo 
superos, Acheronta movebo (Virgil ,Aeneid, vii, 312). 


anything related to the ‘superconscious’, it tries to annex it merely 
by assimilating it to the ‘subconscious’. This particular procedure is 
almost invariably characteristic of its so-called explanations of such 
things as religion and mysticism, together with certain aspects of 
Eastern doctrine such as Yoga ; there are therefore features in this 
confusion of the superior with the inferior that can properly be 
regarded as constituting a real subversion. 

It should also be noted that psychology, as well as the ‘new phi- 
losophy’, tends in its appeal to the subconscious to approach more 
and more closely to ‘metapsychics’; 3 and in the same way it cannot 
avoid making an approach, though perhaps unwittingly (at least in 
the case of those of its representatives who are determined to remain 
materialists in spite of everything), to spiritualism and to other 
more or less similar things, all of which rely without doubt on the 
same obscure elements of a debased psychism. These same things, 
of which the origin and the character are more than suspect, thus 
appear in the guise of ‘precursory’ movements and as the allies of 
recent psychology, which introduces the elements in question into 
the contemporary purview of what is admitted to be ‘official’ sci- 
ence, and although it introduces them in a roundabout way (none- 
theless by an easier way than that of ‘metapsychics’, the latter being 
still disputed in some quarters), it is very difficult to think that the 
part psychology is called upon to play in the present state of the 
world is other than one of active participation in the second phase 
of anti-traditional action. In this connection, the recently men- 
tioned pretensions of ordinary psychology to annex, by forcible 
assimilation to the ‘subconscious’, certain things that by their very 
nature elude it, only belong to what may be called the ‘childish’ side 
of the affair, though they are fairly clearly subversive in tendency; for 
explanations of that sort, just like the ‘sociological’ explanations of 
the same things, are really of a ‘simplistic’ ingenuousness that some- 
times reaches buffoonery; but in any case, that sort of thing is far 
less serious, so far as its real consequences are concerned, than the 

3. Incidentally it was the ‘psychist’ Myers who invented the expression ‘sublimi- 
nal consciousness’ which was later replaced in the psychological vocabulary for the 
sake of brevity by the word ‘subconscious’ 


truly ‘satanic’ side now to be examined more closely in relation to 
the new psychology. 

A ‘satanic’ character is revealed with particular clarity in the psy- 
choanalytic interpretations of symbolism, or of what is held rightly 
or wrongly to be symbolism, this last proviso being inserted because 
on this point as on many others, if the details were gone into, there 
would be many distinctions to make and many confusions to dissi- 
pate: thus, to take only one typical example, a vision in which is 
expressed some ‘supra-human’ inspiration is truly symbolic, 
whereas an ordinary dream is not so, whatever the outward appear- 
ances may be. Psychologists of earlier schools had of course them- 
selves often tried to explain symbolism in their own way and to 
bring it within the range of their own conceptions; in any such case, 
if symbolism is really in question at all, explanations in terms of 
purely human elements fail to recognize anything that is essential, as 
indeed they do whenever affairs of a traditional order are concerned; 
if on the other hand human affairs alone are really in question, then 
it must be a case of false symbolism, but then the very fact of calling 
it by that name reveals once more the same mistake about the 
nature of true symbolism. This applies equally to the matters to 
which the psychoanalysts devote their attention, but with the differ- 
ence that in their case the things to be taken into consideration are 
not simply human, but also to a great extent ‘infra-human’; it is then 
that we come into the presence, not only of a debasement, but of a 
complete subversion; and every subversion, even if it only arises, at 
least in the first place, from incomprehension and ignorance (than 
which nothing is better adapted for exploitation to such ends), is 
always inherently ‘satanic’ in the true sense of the word. Besides this, 
the generally ignoble and repulsive character of psychoanalytical 
interpretations is an entirely reliable ‘mark’ in this connection; and 
it is particularly significant from our point of view, as has been 
shown elsewhere , 4 that this very same ‘mark’ appears again in cer- 
tain spiritualist manifestations— anyone who sees in this no more 
than a mere ‘coincidence’ must v surely have much good will, if 
indeed he is not completely blind. In most cases the psychoanalysts 

4 . See The Spiritist Fallacy, pt. 2, chap. 10. 


may well be quite as unconscious as are the spiritualists of what is 
really involved in these matters; but the former no less than the lat- 
ter appear to be ‘guided’ by a subversive will making use in each case 
of elements that are of the same order, if not precisely identical. This 
subversive will, whatever may be the beings in which it is incar- 
nated, is certainly conscious enough, at least in those beings, and it 
is related to intentions that are doubtless very different from any 
that can be suspected by people who are only the unconscious 
instruments whereby those intentions are translated into action. 

Under such conditions, it is all too clear that resort to psycho- 
analysis for purposes of therapy, this being the usual reason for its 
employment, cannot but be extremely dangerous for those who 
undergo it, and even to those who apply it, for they are concerned 
with things that can never be handled with impunity; it would not 
be taking an exaggerated view to see in this one of the means spe- 
cially brought into play in order to increase to the greatest possible 
extent the disequilibrium of the modern world and to lead it on 
toward final dissolution . 5 Those who practice such methods are on 
the other hand without doubt convinced of the benefits afforded by 
the results they obtain; theirs is however the very delusion that 
makes the diffusion of these methods possible, and it marks the real 
difference subsisting between the intentions of the ‘practitioners’ 
and the intentions of the will that presides over the work in which 
the practitioners only collaborate blindly. In fact, the only effect of 
psychoanalysis must be to bring to the surface, by making it fully 
conscious, the whole content of those lower depths of the being that 
can properly be called the ‘sub- conscious’; moreover, the individual 
concerned is already psychologically weak by hypothesis, for if he 
were otherwise he would experience no need to resort to treatment 
of this description; he is by so much the less able to resist ‘subver- 
sion’, and he is in grave danger of foundering irremediably in the 
chaos of dark forces thus imprudently let loose; even if he manages 

5 . Another example of such means is furnished by the comparable employment 
of ‘radiaesthesia’, for in this case also psychic elements of the same quality very 
often come into play, though it must be admitted that they do not appear under the 
‘hideous’ aspect that is so conspicuous in psychoanalysis. 


in spite of everything to escape, he will at least retain throughout the 
rest of his life an imprint like an ineradicable ‘stain within himself. 

Someone may raise an objection here, based on a supposed anal- 
ogy with the ‘descent into hell’ as is met with in the preliminary 
phases of the initiatic journey; but any such assimilation is com- 
pletely false, for the two aims have nothing in common, nor have 
the conditions of the ‘subject’ in the two cases; there can be no ques- 
tion of anything other than a profane parody, and that idea alone is 
enough to impart to the whole affair a somewhat disturbing sugges- 
tion of ‘counterfeit’. The truth is that this supposed ‘descent into 
hell’, which is not followed by any ‘re-ascent’, is quite simply a ‘fall 
into the mire’, as it is called according to the symbolism of some of 
the ancient Mysteries. It is known that this ‘mire’ was figuratively 
represented as the road leading to Eleusis, and that those who fell 
into it were profane people who claimed initiation without being 
qualified to receive it, and so were only the victims of their own 
imprudence. It may be mentioned that such ‘mires’ really exist in 
the macrocosmic as well as in the microcosmic order; this is directly 
connected with the question of the ‘outer darkness’, 6 and certain 
relevant Gospel texts could be recalled, the meaning of which agrees 
exactly with what has just been explained. In the ‘descent into hell’ 
the being finally exhausts certain inferior possibilities in order to be 
able to rise thereafter to superior states; in the ‘fall into the mire’ on 
the other hand, the inferior possibilities take possession of him, 
dominate him, and end by submerging him completely. 

There was occasion in the previous paragraph again to use the 
word ‘counterfeit’; the impression it conveys is greatly strengthened 
by some other considerations, such as the denaturing of symbolism 
previously mentioned, and the same kind of denaturing tends to 
spread to everything that contains any element of a ‘supra-human’ 
order, as is shown by the attitude adopted toward religion , 7 and 

6. The reader may be referred her£ to what has been said earlier about the sym- 
bolism of the ‘Great Wall’ and of the mountain Lokaloka. 

7. Freud devoted a book specially to the psychoanalytical interpretation of reli- 
gion, in which his own conceptions are combined with the ‘totemism’ of the ‘socio- 
logical school’. 


toward doctrines of a metaphysical and initiatic order such as Yoga. 
Even these last do not escape this new kind of interpretation, which 
is carried to such a point that some proceed to assimilate the meth- 
ods of spiritual ‘realization’ to the therapeutical procedures of psy- 
choanalysis. This is something even worse than the cruder 
deformations also current in the West, such as those in which the 
methods of Yoga are seen as a sort of ‘physical culture’ or as thera- 
peutic methods of a purely physiological kind, for their very crudity 
makes such deformations less dangerous than those that appear in a 
more subtle guise. The subtler kind are the more dangerous not 
simply because they are liable to lead astray minds on which the less 
subtle could obtain no hold; they are certainly dangerous for that 
reason, but there is another reason affecting a much wider field, 
identical with that which has been described as making the materi- 
alistic conception less dangerous than conceptions involving 
recourse to an inferior psychism. Of course the purely spiritual aim, 
which alone constitutes the essentiality of Yoga as such, and without 
which the very use of the word becomes a mere absurdity, is no less 
completely unrecognized in the one case than in the other. Yoga is in 
fact no more a kind of psychic therapy than it is a kind of physiolog- 
ical therapy, and its methods are in no way and in no degree a treat- 
ment for people who are in any way ill or unbalanced; very far from 
that, they are on the contrary intended exclusively for those who 
must from the start and in their own natural dispositions be as per-^ 
fectly balanced as possible if they are to realize the spiritual develop- 
ment which is the only object of the methods; but all these matters, 
as will readily be understood, are strictly linked up with the whole 
question of initiatic qualification . 8 

But this is not yet all, for one other thing under the heading of 
‘counterfeit’ is perhaps even more worthy of note than anything 
mentioned so far, and that is the requirement imposed on anyone 
who wants to practise psychoanalysis as a profession of being first 

8 . On an attempt to apply psychoanalytical theories to the Taoist doctrine, 
which is of the same order as Yoga , see the study by Andre Preau, La Fleur War et le 
Taoisme sans Tao [Paris: Bibliotheque Chacornac, 1931], which contains an excellent 
refutation of the attempted application. 

234 THE reign of quantity 

‘psychoanalyzed’ himself. This implies above all a recognition of the 
fact that the being who has undergone this operation is never again 
the same as he was before, in other words, to repeat an expression 
already used above, it leaves in him an ineradicable imprint, as does 
initiation, but as it were in an opposite sense, for what is here in 
question is not a spiritual development, but the development of an 
inferior psychism. In addition, there is an evident imitation of the 
initiatic transmission; but, bearing in mind the difference in the 
nature of the influences that intervene, and in view of the fact that 
the production of an effective result does not allow the practice to 
be regarded as nothing but a mere pretence without real signifi- 
cance, the psycho-analytic transmission is really more comparable 
to the transmission effected in a domain such as that of magic, or 
even more accurately that of sorcery. And there remains yet another 
very obscure point concerning the actual origin of the transmission: 
it is obviously impossible to give to anyone else what one does not 
possess oneself, and moreover the invention of psychoanalysis is 
quite recent; so from what source did the first psychoanalysts obtain 
the ‘powers’ that they communicate to their disciples, and by whom 
were they themselves ‘psychoanalyzed’ in the first place? To ask this 
question is only logical, at least for anyone capable of a little reflec- 
tion, though it is probably highly indiscreet, and it is more than 
doubtful whether a satisfactory answer will ever be obtained; but 
even without any such answer this kind of psychic transmission 
reveals a truly sinister ‘mark’ in the resemblances it calls to mind: 
from this point of view psychoanalysis presents a rather terrifying 
likeness to certain ‘sacraments of the devil’. 



The account given above, dealing with some of the psycholog- 
ical explanations that have been applied to traditional doctrines, 
covers only a particular case of a confusion that is very widespread 
in the modern world, namely, the confusion of the psychic and the 
spiritual domains. Even when it is not carried to such a point as to 
produce a subversion like that of psychoanalysis, this confusion 
assimilates the spiritual to all that is most inferior in the psychic 
order; it is therefore extremely serious in every case. In a sense it fol- 
lows as a natural result of the fact that Westerners have for a very 
long time past no longer known how to distinguish the ‘soul’ from 
the ‘spirit’ (Cartesian dualism being to a great extent responsible for t 
this, merging as it does into one and the same category everything 
that is not the body, and designating this one vague and ill-defined 
category indifferently by either name); and the confusion never 
ceases to be apparent even in current language: the word ‘spirits’ 
is popularly used for psychic entities that are anything but ‘spiritual’, 
and the very name ‘spiritualism’ is derived from that usage; this 
mistake, together with another consisting in using the word ‘spirit’ 
for something that is really only mental, will be enough by way 
of example for the present. It is all too easy to see the gravity of 
the consequences of any such state of affairs: anyone who propa- 
gates this confusion, whether intentionally or otherwise and espe- 
cially under present conditions, is setting beings on the road to get- 
ting irremediably lost in the chaos of the ‘intermediary world’, 


and thereby, though often unconsciously, playing the game of the 
‘satanic’ forces that rule over what has been called the ‘counter- 

It is important at this point to be very precise if misunderstand- 
ing is to be avoided: it cannot be said that a particular development 
of the possibilities of a being, even in the comparatively low order 
represented by the psychic domain, is essentially ‘malefic’ in itself; 
but it is necessary not to forget that this domain is above all that of 
illusions, and it is also necessary to know how to situate each thing 
in the place to which it normally belongs; in short, everything 
depends on the use made of any such development; the first thing to 
be considered is therefore whether it is taken as an end in itself, or 
on the other hand as a mere means for the attainment of a goal of a 
superior order. Anything whatever can in fact serve, according to 
the circumstances of each case, as an opportunity or ‘support’ to 
one who has entered upon the way that is to lead him toward a spir- 
itual ‘realization’; this is particularly true at the start, because of the 
diversity of individual natures, which exercises its maximum infl- 
uence at that point, but it is still true to a certain extent for so long 
as the limits of the individuality have not been completely left 
behind. But on the other hand, anything whatever can just as well 
be an obstacle as a ‘support’, if the being does not pass beyond it 
but allows itself to be deluded and led astray by appearances of real- 
ization that have no inherent value and are only accidental and con- 
tingent results— if indeed they can justifiably be regarded as results 
from any point of view. The danger of going astray is always present 
for exactly as long as the being is within the order of individual pos- 
sibilities; it is without question greatest wherever psychic possibili- 
ties are involved, and is naturally greater still when those pos- 
sibilities are of a very inferior order. 

The danger is certainly much less when possibilities confined to 
the corporeal and physiological order alone are involved, as they are 
in the case of the aforementioned error of some Westerners who 
take Yoga, or at least the little they know of its preparatory proce- 
dures, to be a sort of method of ‘physical culture’; in cases of that 
kind, almost the only risk incurred is that of obtaining, by ‘prac- 
tices’ accomplished ill-advisedly and without control, exactly the 


opposite result to that desired, and of ruining one’s health while 
seeking to improve it. Such things have no interest here save as 
examples of a crude deviation in the employment of these ‘prac- 
tices’, for they are really designed for quite a different purpose, as 
remote as possible from the physiological domain, and natural 
repercussions occurring in that domain constitute but a mere ‘acci- 
dent’ not to be credited with the smallest importance. Nevertheless 
it must be added that these same ‘practices’ can also have repercus- 
sions in the subtle modalities of the individual unsuspected by the 
ignorant person who undertakes them as he would a kind of ‘gym- 
nastics’, and this considerably augments their danger. In this way 
the door may be quite unwittingly opened to all sorts of influences 
(those to take advantage of it in the first place being of course always 
of the lowest quality), and the less suspicion the victim has of the 
existence of anything of the kind the less is he prepared against 
them, and still less is he able to discern their real nature; there is in 
any event nothing in all this that can claim to be ‘spiritual’ in any 

The state of affairs is quite different in cases where there is a con- 
fusion of the psychic properly so called with the spiritual. This con- 
fusion moreover appears in two contrary forms: in the first, the 
spiritual is brought down to the level of the psychic, and this is what 
happens more particularly in the kind of psychological explanations 
already referred to; in the second, the psychic is on the other hand 
mistaken for the spiritual; of this the most popular example is spiri- 
tualism, though the other more complex forms of ‘neo-spiritualism’ 
all proceed from the very same error. In either case it is clearly the 
spiritual that is misconceived; but the first case concerns those who 
simply deny it, at least in practice if not always explicitly, whereas 
the second concerns those who are subject to the delusion of a false 
spirituality; and it is this second case that is now more particularly 
in view. The reason why so many people allow themselves to be led 
astray by this delusion is fundamentally quite simple: some of them 
seek above all for imagined ‘powers’, or broadly speaking and in one 
form or another, for the production of more or less extraordinary 
‘phenomena’; others constrain themselves to ‘centralize’ their con- 
sciousness on inferior ‘prolongations’ of the human individuality, 


mistaking them for superior states simply because they are outside 
the limits within which the activities of the ‘average’ man are gener- 
ally enclosed, the limits in question being, in the state correspond- 
ing to the profane point of view of the present period, those of what 
is commonly called ‘ordinary life’, into which no possibility of an 
extra-corporeal order can enter. Even within the latter group it is the 
lure of the ‘phenomenon’, that is to say in the final analysis the 
‘experimental’ tendency in the modern spirit, which is most fre- 
quently at the root of the error; what these people are in fact trying 
to obtain is always results that are in some way ‘sensational’, and 
they mistake such results for ‘realization’; but this again amounts to 
saying that everything belonging to the spiritual order escapes them 
completely, that they are unable even to conceive of anything of the 
kind, however remotely; and it would be very much better for them, 
since they are entirely lacking in spiritual ‘qualification’, if they were 
content to remain enclosed in the commonplace and mediocre 
security of ‘ordinary life’. Of course there can be no question of 
denying the reality as such of the ‘phenomena’ concerned; in fact 
they can be said to be only too real, and for that reason all the more 
dangerous. What is now being formally contested is their value and 
their interest, particularly from the point of view of spiritual devel- 
opment, and the delusion itself concerns the very nature of spiritual 
development. Again, if no more than a mere waste of time and effort 
were involved, the harm would not after all be so very great, but 
generally speaking the being that becomes attached to such things 
soon becomes incapable of releasing itself from them or passing 
beyond them, and its deviation is then beyond remedy; the occur- 
rence of cases of this kind is well known in all the Eastern traditions, 
where the individuals affected become mere producers of ‘phenom- 
ena’ and will never attain the least degree of spirituality. But there is 
still something more, for a sort of ‘inverted’ development can take 
place, not only conferring no useful advantage, but taking the being 
ever further away from spiritual ‘realization’, until it is irretrievably 
astray in the inferior ‘prolongations’ of its individuality recently 
mentioned, and through these it can only come into contact with 
the ‘infra- human’. There is then no escape from its situation, or at 
least there is only one, and that is the total disintegration of the con- 
scious being; such a disintegration is strictly equivalent in the case of 


the individual to final dissolution in the case of the totality of the 
manifested ‘cosmos’. 

For this reason, perhaps more than for any other, it is impossible 
to be too mistrustful of every appeal to the ‘subconscious’, to 
‘instinct’, and to sub-rational ‘intuition’, no less than to a more or 
less ill-defined ‘vital force’— in a word to all those vague and obscure 
things that tend to exalt the new philosophy and psychology, yet 
lead more or less directly to a contact with inferior states. There is 
therefore all the more reason to exercise extreme vigilance (for the 
enemy knows only too well how to take on the most insidious dis- 
guises) against anything that may lead the being to become ‘fused’ 
or preferably and more accurately ‘confused’ or even ‘dissolved’ in a 
sort of ‘cosmic consciousness’ that shuts out all ‘transcendence’ and 
so also shuts out all effective spirituality. This is the ultimate conse- 
quence of all the anti-metaphysical errors known more especially in 
their philosophical aspect by such names as ‘pantheism’, ‘im- 
manentism’, and ‘naturalism’, all of which are closely interrelated, 
and many people would doubtless recoil before such a consequence 
if they could know what it is that they are really talking about. These 
things do indeed quite literally amount to an ‘inversion’ of spiritual- 
ity, to a substitution for it of what is truly its opposite, since they 
inevitably lead to its final loss, and this constitutes ‘satanism’ prop- 
erly so called. Whether it be conscious or unconscious in any partic- 
ular case makes little difference to the result, for it must not be 
forgotten that the ‘unconscious satanism’ of some people, who are 
more numerous than ever in this period in which disorder has 
spread into every domain, is really in the end no more than an 
instrument in the service of the ‘conscious satanism’ of those who 
represent the ‘counter- initiation’. 

There has been occasion elsewhere to call attention to the initiatic 
symbolism of a ‘navigation’ across the ocean (representing the psy- 
chic domain), which must be crossed while avoiding all its dangers 
in order to reach the goal ; 1 but what is to be said of someone who 
flings himself into the ocean and has no aspiration but to drown 
himself in it? This is very precisely the significance of a so-called 
‘fusion’ with a ‘cosmic consciousness’ that is really nothing but the 

1. See The King of the World and Spiritual Authority & Temporal Power. 


confused and indistinct assemblage of all the psychic influences; 
and, whatever some people may imagine, these influences have 
absolutely nothing in common with spiritual influences, even if they 
may happen to imitate them to a certain extent in some of their out- 
ward manifestations (for in this domain ‘counterfeit’ comes into 
play in all its fullness, and this is why the ‘phenomenal’ manifesta- 
tions so eagerly sought for never by themselves prove anything, for 
they can be very much the same in a saint as in a sorcerer). Those 
who make this fatal mistake either forget about or are unaware of 
the distinction between the ‘upper waters’ and the ‘lower waters’; 
instead of raising themselves toward the ‘ocean above’, they plunge 
into the abyss of the ‘ocean below’; instead of concentrating all their 
powers so as to direct them toward the formless world, which alone 
can be called ‘spiritual’, they disperse them in the endlessly change- 
able and fugitive diversity of the forms of subtle manifestation (this 
diversity corresponding as nearly as possible to the Bergsonian con- 
ception of ‘reality’) with no suspicion that they are mistaking for a 
fullness of ‘life’ something that is in truth the realm of death and of a 
dissolution without hope of return. 



The anti-traditional activity now being studied in its vari- 
ous aspects has been called ‘satanic’, but it must be clearly under- 
stood that this word is used quite independently of any particular 
idea that anyone may have formed, whether in conformity with 
some theological outlook or otherwise, of any so-called ‘Satan; it is 
superfluous to say that ‘personifications’ have no importance from 
the present point of view and can have nothing to do with the mat- 
ter in hand. What has to be taken into account is, on the one hand, 
the spirit of negation and of subversion into which ‘Satan’ is re- 
solved metaphysically, whatever may be the special forms assumed 
by that spirit in order to be manifested in one domain or another, 
and, on the other hand, the thing that can properly be held to repre- 
sent it and so to speak to ‘incarnate’ it in the terrestrial world, 
in which its action is being studied— and this thing is precisely 
what has been called the ‘counter-initiation’. It should be noted that 
the expression ‘counter- initiation’ has been used here, and not 
‘pseudo-initiation’, for the two are quite different, and it is impor- 
tant moreover not to confuse the counterfeiter with the counterfeit. 
‘Pseudo-initiation’ as it exists today in numerous organizations, 
many of them attached to some form of ‘neo-spiritualism’, is but 
one of many examples of counterfeit, comparable to others to 
which attention has already been directed in their various orders; 
nevertheless, as a counterfeit of initiation, ‘pseudo-initiation’ has 
perhaps an importance even more considerable than that of the 
counterfeit of anything else. It is really only one of the products 
of the state of disorder and confusion brought about in the modern 
period by the ‘satanic’ activity that has its conscious starting-point 
in the ‘counter-initiation’; it can also be, although unconsciously, 


an instrument of the latter, though this is no less true in the end of 
all the other counterfeits, whatever their degree, in the sense that 
they are all just so many means contributing to the realization of the 
same plan of subversion, so that each plays exactly the part, whether 
it be of greater or of lesser importance, that is assigned to it within 
the whole, this state of affairs itself constituting moreover a sort of 
counterfeit of the very order and harmony against which the whole 
plan is directed. 

As for the ‘counter-initiation, it is certainly not a mere illusory 
counterfeit, but on the contrary something very real in its own 
order, as the effectiveness of its action shows only too well; at least, it 
is not a counterfeit except in the sense that it necessarily imitates ini- 
tiation like an inverted shadow, although its real intention is not to 
imitate but to oppose. This intention is inevitably doomed to fail- 
ure, for the metaphysical and spiritual domain is completely closed 
to it, being inherently outside all oppositions; all it can do is to 
ignore or to deny that domain, and it can in no case get beyond the 
‘intermediary world’; the psychic domain is indeed in all respects 
the privileged sphere of influence of ‘Satan’ in the human order and 
even in the cosmic order ; 1 but the intention exists nonetheless, and 
it implies a policy of working consistently in direct opposition to 
initiation. As for ‘pseudo-initiation’, it is no more than a mere par- 
ody, and this is as much as to say that it is nothing in itself, that it is 
devoid of all profound reality, or, if preferred, that its intrinsic value 
is neither positive like that of initiation nor negative like that of 
‘counter-initiation’, but is quite simply nil. That being the case, one 
might be tempted to think that it is nothing but a more or less 
harmless amusement, but it is not merely that, for reasons that have 
been stated in the general explanations given of the true character of 
counterfeits and the part they are destined to play— and with the 
additional reason in this particular case that rites, by virtue of their 
nature, which is ‘sacred’ in the strictest sense of the word, are such 
that they can never be imitated with impunity. It can be said too 

1. According to the Islamic doctrine it is through the nafs (soul) that Shaytiin 
can obtain a hold on man, whereas the rtih (spirit), of which the essence is pure 
light, is beyond the reach of his endeavors. 


that the 'pseudo-traditional’ counterfeits, to which belong all the 
denaturings of the idea of tradition dealt with hitherto, take their 
most dangerous form in ‘pseudo-initiation’, first because in it they 
are translated into effective action instead of remaining in the form 
of more or less vague conceptions, and secondly because they make 
their attack on tradition from the inside, on what is its very spirit, 
namely, the esoteric and initiatic domain. 

It may be remarked that the ‘counter-initiation’ works with a 
view to introducing its agents into ‘pseudo-initiatic’ organizations, 
using the agents to ‘inspire’ the organizations, unperceived by the 
ordinary members and usually also by the ostensible heads, who are 
no more aware than the rank-and-file of the purpose they are really 
serving; but it is as well to add that such agents are in fact intro- 
duced in a similar way and wherever possible into all the more exte- 
rior ‘movements’ of the contemporary world, political or otherwise, 
and even, as was mentioned earlier, into authentically initiatic or 
religious organizations, but only when their traditional spirit is so 
weakened that they can no longer resist so insidious a penetration. 
Nevertheless, except for the last-named case, in which there is the 
most direct application possible of dissolutionary activity, the 
‘pseudo-initiatic’ organizations doubtless furnish the field of action 
most worthy of the attention of the ‘counter-initiation’, and they 
must be the object of special efforts on its part for the very reason 
that the work it undertakes is above all anti-traditional, and that it 
is wholly concentrated on that work and on nothing else. This is the 
probable reason for the existence of numerous links between 
‘pseudo-initiatic’ manifestations and all sorts of other things that at 
first sight might appear to have no connection whatever with them, 
but that are all representative of the modern spirit in one or another 
of its most fully developed forms ; 2 why indeed, if it were not so, 
should ‘pseudo-initiates’ constantly play so important a part in such 
affairs? It could be said that, among all the instruments or measures 
of all kinds employed in this sort of way, ‘pseudo-initiation’ must 
from its very nature logically take first place; it is of course but a cog 

2. A number of examples of activities of this kind have been given in Theosophy: 
History of a Pseudo- Religion. 

244 THE reign of quantity 

in the machine, but a cog that controls many others, and one with 
which the others become engaged, as it were, in such a way that they 
derive their movement from it. Here again counterfeit makes its 
appearance: ‘pseudo-initiation’ imitates in this way the function of 
an invisible prime mover [moteur invisible ] , properly belonging in a 
normal order to initiation; but great care must be taken not to for- 
get that initiation truly and legitimately represents the spirit, princi- 
pal animator of all things, whereas so far as ‘pseudo-initiation’ is 
concerned the spirit is obviously absent. The immediate result is 
that action instigated through such channels, instead of being truly 
organic’, can only have a purely ‘mechanical’ character, and this fact 
fully justifies the analogy with cogs used above; moreover, as we 
have already seen, is it not obvious that the most striking feature of 
everything we meet with in the world today is its mechanical char- 
acter, this world where day by day the machine invades new fields, 
and where the human being himself is reduced to being more and 
more like an automaton in all his activities, because all spirituality 
has been taken away from him? That is where all the inferiority of 
artificial productions is most blatant, even if a ‘satanic’ cleverness 
has presided over their elaboration; machines can be manufactured, 
but not living beings, because, once more, it is the spirit that is 
bound to be missing and must always remain so. 

An ‘invisible prime mover’ has been mentioned, and in addition 
to the imitative tendency that is again in evidence from this point of 
view, ‘pseudo-initiation’ derives for the purpose it has in view an 
incontestable advantage over anything that is more ‘public’ in char- 
acter from its comparative ‘invisibility’, however relative it may be. 
It is not as if ‘pseudo-initiatic’ organizations for the most part took 
much trouble to hide their existence, many of them indeed going so 
far as openly to indulge in a propaganda totally incompatible with 
their esoteric pretensions, but in spite of this they continue as orga- 
nizations to be among the least apparent, and to be those that best 
lend themselves to the exercise of a ‘discreet’ action, so that the 
‘counter-initiation’ can get more v directly into contact with them 
than with anything else, without having to fear that its intervention 
will be unmasked, and all the more so because in any such environ- 
ment it is always possible to find some means of escape from the 


consequences of an indiscretion or a lack of prudence. Moreover 
the greater part of the general public, while it is more or less aware 
of the existence of ‘pseudo-initiatic’ organizations, is by no means 
clear as to what they are and is not inclined to attach much impor- 
tance to them, as it sees nothing in them but mere ‘eccentricities’ 
without serious significance; and the very indifference of the public 
serves the same purpose, albeit unwittingly, as could be attained by 
strict secrecy. 

So far, an attempt has been made to describe as clearly as possible 
the real, though unconscious, part played by ‘pseudo-initiation’ and 
the true nature of its relations with the ‘counter-initiation’; and it 
should be added that the latter may in certain cases find in the 
former a field of observation and selection for recruitment to its 
own ranks, but that aspect of the matter need not be pursued here. 
There is also something of which not even an approximate idea can 
be conveyed, and that is the unbelievable multiplicity and complex- 
ity of the ramifications that in fact subsist between all these things, 
for they are indeed such that they could only be clarified by a direct 
and detailed study; but it will probably be agreed that only the 
‘principle’, if that is the right word, is of interest for the present. 
Nevertheless this is not all: a broad view has been given of the rea- 
son for the counterfeiting of the traditional idea by ‘pseudo-initia- 
tion’; it remains to be shown more precisely how this is achieved, so 
that the treatment of the matter may not appear to have been too 
exclusively ‘theoretical’. 

One of the simplest means at the disposal of ‘pseudo-initiatic’ 
organizations for the fabrication of a false tradition for the use of 
their adherents is undoubtedly ‘syncretism’, which consists in 
assembling in a more or less convincing manner elements borrowed 
from almost anywhere, and in putting them together as it were 
‘from the outside’, without any genuine understanding of what they 
really represent in the various traditions to which they properly 
belong. As any such more or less shapeless assemblage must be given 
some appearance of unity so that it can be presented as a ‘doctrine’, 
its elements must somehow be grouped around one or more 
‘directing ideas’, and these last will not be of traditional origin, 
but, quite the contrary, will usually be wholly profane and modern 


conceptions, and so inherently anti-traditional; it has already been 
remarked that in ‘neo-spiritualism’ the idea of ‘evolution’ in particu- 
lar plays a preponderant part in this capacity. It is easy to under- 
stand that any such procedure greatly enhances the gravity of the 
situation; under such conditions it is no longer a question of mak- 
ing a sort of ‘mosaic’ of traditional odds and ends, which might after 
all provide no more than a perfectly useless but fairly inoffensive 
amusement; it becomes a question of denaturing, and it could be 
described as a ‘perversion’ of traditional elements, since people will 
be led to attribute to them a meaning altered so as to agree with the 
‘directing idea’, until finally it runs directly counter to the tradi- 
tional meaning. Of course those who do this sort of thing may not 
be acting with any clear consciousness, for the modern mentality 
that is theirs can be the cause of a real blindness in such matters, in 
all of which due account must always be taken, first of the simple 
incomprehension arising from that very mentality, and then, or 
rather perhaps especially, of the ‘suggestions’ victimizing in the first 
place the ‘pseudo-initiates’ themselves, so that they may in their 
turn join in inculcating the same suggestions into other people. 
This kind of unconsciousness in no way alters the results or dimin- 
ishes the danger of such things, nor does it make them any less 
suited to serve, even if only ‘after the event’, the ends at which the 
‘counter-initiation’ is aiming. There are of course cases in which 
agents of the ‘counter-initiation’ may have promoted or inspired the 
formation of ‘pseudo-traditions’ of the kind described by a more or 
less direct intervention; a few examples could no doubt be found, 
but it should not be assumed that even in these cases the conscious 
agents have themselves been the known and apparent creators of the 
‘pseudo-initiatic’ forms in question, for it is clear that prudence 
demands that they should always hide as much as possible behind 
mere unconscious instruments. 

The word ‘unconsciousness’ as used above is intended to mean 
that those who thus elaborate a ‘pseudo-tradition’ are usually totally 
unaware of the purpose it is really serving. Concerning the character 
and value of any such production, it is more difficult to admit the 
purity of their good faith, though even in that respect it is possible 
that they delude themselves to some extent, or that they may be 


deceived in the manner outlined at the end of the previous para- 
graph. Account must also be taken fairly frequently of ‘anomalies’ of 
a psychic nature, which again complicate matters and incidentally 
provide particularly favorable conditions for influences and sugges- 
tions of all sorts to produce their maximum effect; attention need 
only be called, without pursuing the matter further, to the anything 
but negligible part frequently played in such affairs by ‘clairvoyants’ 
and other ‘sensitives’. But in spite of everything, there almost always 
comes a point at which conscious trickery and charlatanism become 
a sort of necessity for the directors of a ‘pseudo-initiatic’ organiza- 
tion: for instance, if someone happens to notice borrowings made 
more or less clumsily from a particular tradition— and it is not very 
difficult to do so— how could the directors admit the fact without 
being obliged to confess themselves to be no better than ordinary 
profane people? They do not usually hesitate in a case of that kind to 
reverse the true relations and boldly declare that it is their own ‘tra- 
dition’ that is the common ‘source’ of all those they have robbed; 
and if they do not manage to convince everyone, at least there are 
always some innocents who will take them at their word, and in 
numbers sufficient to ensure that their position as ‘heads of schools’, 
to which they usually cling above everything else, is not in danger of 
being seriously compromised, all the more so because they do not 
pay much attention to the quality of their ‘disciples’, for, in confor- 
mity with the modern mentality, quantity seems to them much 
more important; and this alone is enough to show how very far they 
are from having even the most elementary notion of the real nature 
of esoterism and initiation. 

It is scarcely necessary to say that all that has been described so far 
is no mere matter of more or less hypothetical possibilities, but is a 
matter of real and properly established fact; if all the facts had to be 
specified there would be no end to it, and to attempt the task would 
serve no very useful purpose: a few characteristic examples will 
suffice. For instance, the procedure of ‘syncretism’ recently men- 
tioned has been followed in the setting up of a sham ‘Oriental tradi- 
tion’, that of the Theosophists, comprising nothing oriental but a 
terminology misunderstood and misapplied; and as the world of 
such affairs is always ‘divided against itself’ in accordance with the 


Gospel saying, French occultists in a spirit of opposition and rivalry 
constructed in their turn a so-called ‘Western tradition’ of the same 
kind, in which many of the elements, notably those drawn from the 
Kabbalah, can hardly be said to be Western with respect to their ori- 
gin, though they are Western enough with respect to the special 
manner of their interpretation. The first-named presented their ‘tra- 
dition’ as the very expression of ‘ancient wisdom’, the second, per- 
haps a little more modest in their pretensions, sought more 
particularly to pass off their ‘syncretism’ as a ‘synthesis’, and few 
people have misused this last word so badly. If the first-named 
showed more ambition it is perhaps because there were present at 
the origins of their ‘movement’ some rather enigmatic influences, 
the true nature of which they themselves would no doubt have been 
quite unable to determine; so far as the second group is concerned, 
they knew only too well that there was nothing behind them, that 
their work was only that of a few individuals with nothing but 
themselves to rely on, and if nevertheless it so happened that ‘some- 
thing’ else effected an entry, that certainly did not happen till much 
later; these two cases, considered in relation to the circumstances 
outlined, could without difficulty be taken as applications of what 
was said earlier, but the task of deducing the consequences that may 
seem to the reader to arise logically can be left to his own efforts. 

The truth is that there has never existed anything that could 
rightly be called either an ‘Oriental tradition’ or a ‘Western tradi- 
tion’, any such denomination being obviously much too vague to be 
applied to a defined traditional form, since, unless one goes back to 
the primordial tradition, which is here not in question for very eas- 
ily understandable reasons, and which is anyhow neither Eastern 
nor Western, there are and there always have been diverse and mul- 
tiple traditional forms both in the East and in the West. Others have 
thought to do better and to inspire confidence more easily by appro- 
priating to themselves the name of some tradition that really existed 
at some more or less distant date, and using it as a label for a struc- 
ture that is no less incongruous than the others, for although they 
naturally make some use of what they can manage to find out about 
the tradition on which they have staked their claim, they are forced 
to reinforce their few facts, always very fragmentary and often even 


partly hypothetical, by recourse to other elements either borrowed 
from a different source or wholly imaginary. In every case, a cursory 
examination of these productions is enough to make apparent the 
specifically modern spirit that has presided over their formation, 
and it is invariably betrayed by the presence of one or more of the 
‘directive ideas’ alluded to above; after that there is no object in fur- 
ther researches nor in taking the trouble to determine exactly and in 
detail the real source of any one element of the mixture, since the 
first discovery shows clearly enough, and without leaving room for 
the smallest doubt, that one is in the presence of nothing but a pure 

One of the best examples that can be given of the last-named case 
is that of the many organizations that at the present time call them- 
selves ‘Rosicrucian’; needless to say, they do not fail to be mutually 
contradictory, and even to quarrel more or less openly, while all 
claim to be the representatives of one and the same ‘tradition’. In 
fact any one of them, without a single exception, can be admitted to 
be perfectly right when it denounces its rivals as being illegitimate 
and fraudulent; never have there been as many people calling them- 
selves ‘Rosicrucian’, or even ‘Brothers of the Rose-Cross’, as can be 
found now that there are no authentic ones left! There is anyhow 
very little danger in passing oneself off as the continuation of some- 
thing that belongs entirely to the past, especially when the danger of 
exposure is further reduced by the fact that the organization in 
question has, as in this case, always been enveloped in some obscu- 
rity, so much so that its end is as obscure as its origin; is there any- 
one among the profane public or even among the ‘pseudo-initiates’ 
who can say exactly what the tradition that was known for a time as 
Rosicrucian really was? It should be mentioned that these remarks 
on the usurpation of the name of an initiatic organization do not 
apply to a case such as that of the imaginary ‘Great White Lodge’, of 
which oddly enough more and more is being heard in many quar- 
ters, and no longer only among the Theosophists: at no time and in 
no place has this name ever had an authentically traditional conno- 
tation; and if it is used as the conventional ‘mask’ for something 
that has some degree of reality, then that thing should certainly not 
be sought for in the initiatic domain. 


The fact that some people choose to locate the ‘Masters’ to whom 
they profess adherence in some highly inaccessible region of central 
Asia or elsewhere has often aroused comment; this is a fairly easy 
way of ensuring that their assertions are unverifiable, but it is not 
the only way, because remoteness in time can serve the same pur- 
pose in this respect as remoteness in space. Others do not hesitate to 
claim to be attached to some tradition that has entirely disappeared 
and has been extinct for centuries, even for thousands of years. 
However, unless they are bold enough to assert that their chosen 
tradition has been perpetuated for that length of time in a manner 
so secret and so well concealed that nobody but themselves has been 
able to discover the smallest trace of it, they are admittedly deprived 
of the appreciable advantage of being able to claim a direct and con- 
tinuous filiation, for in their case the claim cannot even present an 
appearance of plausibility such as it can still present when of a fairly 
recent form such as that of the Rosicrucian tradition is chosen; but 
this defect does not seem to have much importance in their eyes, for 
they are so ignorant of the true conditions of initiation that they 
readily imagine that a mere ‘ideal’ attachment, without any regular 
transmission, can take the place of an effective attachment. It is 
moreover clear that a tradition will lend itself the more readily to 
any fantastic ‘reconstitution’ the more completely it is lost and for- 
gotten, and that it is then all the more difficult to be sure about the 
real significance of its remaining vestiges, which can therefore be 
made to mean almost anything desired, each person naturally put- 
ting into it whatever may conform to his own ideas. There is doubt- 
less no need to look for any other explanation of the fact that the 
Egyptian tradition is specially exploited’ in this way, and that so 
many ‘pseudo-initiates’ of very different schools show a preference 
for it that would otherwise be difficult to understand. It must be 
made clear, in order to avoid any mistaken application of what has 
been said, that these observations in no way concern references to 
Egypt or to other things of the same kind such as may sometimes be 
met with in certain initiatic organizations, where however their 
character is only that of symbolical ‘legends’, with no pretension to 
a superior value based on their initiatic origin. The question now at 
issue is that of alleged restorations, purporting to be valid as such, 


of traditions or initiations that no longer exist; but no such restora- 
tion, even on the impossible supposition that it could be exact and 
complete in all respects, would in any case possess any inherent 
interest, except as a mere archaeological curiosity. 

Here this already long discussion must be brought to a close; it 
has amply sufficed to indicate in a general way the nature of the 
many ‘pseudo-initiatic’ counterfeits of the traditional idea that are 
so characteristic of our times; a mixture, more or less coherent but 
rather less than more so, of elements partly borrowed and partly 
invented, the whole dominated by anti-traditional conceptions 
such as are peculiar to the modern spirit, and for this reason serving 
no purpose other than the further spread of these same conceptions 
by making them pass with some people as traditional, not to men- 
tion the manifest deceit that consists in giving, in place of ‘initia- 
tion’, not only something purely profane in itself, but also 
something that makes for ‘profanation’. Should anyone now put 
forward the suggestion, as a sort of extenuating circumstance, that 
there are always in these affairs, despite all their faults, some ele- 
ments derived from genuinely traditional sources, the answer 
would be this: in order to get itself accepted, every imitation must 
take on at least some of the features of the thing imitated, but that is 
just what makes it so dangerous; is not the cleverest lie, as well as 
the most deadly, precisely the lie that mixes most inextricably the 
true and the false, thus contriving to press the true into service in 
order to promote the triumph of the false? 



of ‘prophecies’ 

The mixture of truth and falsehood met with in the 
‘pseudo-traditions’ of modern manufacture is found again in the so- 
called ‘prophecies’ that have been propagated and exploited in every 
way, especially in the last few years, for ends of which the least that 
can be said is that they are highly enigmatic. They are described as 
‘so-called’ prophecies because the word ‘prophecy’ can only be 
properly used of the announcements of future events contained in 
the sacred books of the various traditions and proceeding from an 
inspiration of a purely spiritual order; any other use of the word is 
entirely misleading, ‘prediction’ being the proper word to use in all 
other cases. Predictions may come from quite varied sources; at least 
some have been a result of the application of certain secondary tra- 
ditional sciences, and these are certainly the most valid, but only on 
condition that their meaning can really be understood, and this is 
not always very easy, because for many reasons they are usually for- 
mulated in rather obscure terms, which often do not become clear 
until after the events to which they relate have taken place; it is there- 
fore always as well to be mistrustful, not of the predictions them- 
selves, but of the erroneous or ‘tendentious’ interpretations that may 
be made of them. As for the rest, insofar as there is anything authen- 
tic in them, it emanates almost exclusively from ‘seers’— sincere no 
doubt, though only very partially ‘enlightened’— who have experi- 
enced certain confused perceptions delated more or less accurately 
to a future that is usually not at all clearly determined, particularly as 
to the date and the order of succession of events, and who have 


unconsciously mixed those perceptions with their own ideas and 
consequently expressed them still more confusedly, so much so that 
it becomes possible to find in their statements almost anything one 
wants to find. 

It is easy to see what purpose this sort of thing can serve under 
present conditions: such predictions almost always present every- 
thing in a distressing or even in a terrifying light, because that is the 
aspect of events that has naturally struck the ‘seers’, it is therefore 
enough, in order to disturb the mentality of the public, merely to 
spread them about, accompanied if necessary by commentaries that 
will emphasize their threatening aspect and will treat the events they 
are concerned with as imminent . 1 If one prediction agrees with 
another their effect will be reinforced, and if they contradict one 
another, as often happens, they will only produce all the more disor- 
der; in either case there will be so much the more gained by the 
forces of subversion. It must be added too that all these things, pro- 
ceeding as they generally do from fairly low regions in the psychic 
domain, carry with them for that reason unbalancing and dissolv- 
ing influences that add considerably to their danger, this no doubt 
being why even those who put no faith in them experience, in many 
cases, a kind of discomfort in their presence, comparable to that 
induced even in people who are not at all ‘sensitive’ by the presence 
of subtle forces of an inferior order. One would scarcely believe, for 
example, how many people have become seriously and perhaps irre- 
mediably unbalanced through the numerous predictions connected 
with the ‘Great Pope’ or the ‘Grand Monarch’. These predictions do 
contain a few traces of certain truths, but strangely distorted by the 
‘mirrors’ of an inferior psychism, and in addition brought down to 
the measure of the mentality of the ‘seers’ who have to some extent 
‘materialized’ them and have ‘localized’ them more or less narrowly 

1. The announcement of the destruction of Paris by fire, for example, has been 
promulgated several times in this way, the exact dates being specified, although 
nothing has ever happened, except for the impression of terror invariably aroused 
in many people, and never growing any less with the repeated failure of the predic- 

254 THE reign of quantity 

so as to force them into the framework of their own preconceived 
ideas . 2 The way in which this group of predictions is presented by 
the ‘seers’ in question, who are very often the subjects of ‘sugges- 
tions ’, 3 makes a near approach to certain very dark and ‘under- 
ground’ matters, the astonishing ramifications of which, at least 
since the beginning of the nineteenth century, would be particularly 
interesting to follow for anyone who wanted to write a history of 
those times, a history would certainly be very different from the one 
that is taught ‘officially’. But needless to say there can be no question 
of going into the detail of these matters, and it must suffice simply to 
have mentioned this very complex affair, which has obviously been 
intentionally confused in all its aspects ; 4 for it could not have been 
passed over in silence without leaving too big a blank in the list of 
the principal elements characteristic of the modern period, since it 
constitutes one of the most significant symptoms of the second 
phase of anti-traditional action. 

Moreover, the mere propagation of predictions such as those 
alluded to is only the most elementary part of the work now going 
on in this field, for almost all the propagation that needs to be done 
has already been done, though unwittingly, by the ‘seers’ them- 
selves; other parts of the work demand the elaboration of subtler 
interpretations if the predictions are to be made to serve the desired 
ends. The predictions used in this way are more particularly those 
that are based on certain forms of traditional knowledge, and then 
it is their obscurity that is chiefly taken advantage of for the purpose 

2. The relatively valid part of the predictions in question seems to be related 
chiefly to the function of the Mahdi and that of the tenth Avatdra ; these matters, 
which directly concern the preparation for the final ‘rectification’, are outside the 
subject of this book; all that need be mentioned now is that their very deformation 
lends itself to an ‘inverted’ exploitation leading toward subversion. 

3. It must be clearly understood that this in no way means that they are the sub- 
jects of ‘hallucinations’: the difference between the meaning of the two terms is the 
difference between seeing things that have been consciously and voluntarily imag- 
ined by others, and imagining them oneself ‘subconsciously’. 

4. For example, a little thought about all that has been done to throw the ques- 
tion of the survival of Louis xvn into inextricable confusion will give an idea of 
what is meant here. 


in view ; 5 some of the Biblical prophecies themselves are for the 
same reason the objects of this kind of ‘tendentious’ interpretation, 
the authors of which are incidentally often acting in good faith, but 
can only be regarded as the victims of ‘suggestion’ and as being 
made use of to apply ‘suggestion’ to others. It is as if there were a 
sort of highly contagious psychic ‘epidemic’, but it fits too neatly 
into the plan of subversion to be ‘spontaneous’; on the contrary, like 
all other manifestations of the modern disorder (including the rev- 
olutions, which the ingenuous also believe to be ‘spontaneous’) it 
necessarily presupposes a conscious will at its starting-point. The 
worst form of blindness would be to see nothing more in all this but 
a mere question of ‘fashion’ without real importance ; 6 and the same 
could be said of the growing diffusion of certain ‘divinatory arts’, 
which are certainly not as inoffensive as people who do not get to 
the bottom of things may suppose: they are generally the uncom- 
prehended residues of ancient traditional sciences now almost 
entirely lost, and, apart from the danger already attached to them by 
virtue of their ‘residual’ character, they are arranged and combined 
in such a way that their employment opens the door, under the pre- 
text of ‘intuition’ (and this approach to the ‘new philosophy’ is in 
itself rather remarkable), to the intervention of all those psychic 
influences that are most dubious in character . 7 

Use is also made, along with appropriate interpretations, of pre- 
dictions more suspect in origin but nonetheless fairly old; these 

5. The predictions of Nostradamus provide die most typical and die most 
important example; the more or less extraordinary interpretations assigned to 
them, particularly in the last few years, are almost numberless. 

6. ‘Fashion’ itself, an essentially modern invention, is in its real significance 
something not entirely devoid of importance: it represents unceasing and aimless 
change, in contrast to the stability and order that reign in traditional civilizations. 

7. Much could be said in this connection about the use of the Tarot in particu- 
lar. It contains vestiges of an undeniably traditional science, whatever may have 
been its real origin, but it also has some very tenebrous aspects; no allusion is 
intended here to the many occultist fantasies to which the Tarot has given rise, for 
they are mostly negligible; the concern is with something much more effective, 
making its handling really dangerous for anyone not sufficiendy protected against 
the action of the ‘underground forces’. 


were perhaps not originally made in order to be of use in present 
circumstances, although the powers of subversion had evidently 
acquired some considerable influence at the time of their origin (the 
time in question being that at which the modern deviation may be 
said to have begun, from the fourteenth to the sixteenth centuries), 
and it is not impossible that those powers then had in view, not only 
some more special and immediate objective, but also the prepara- 
tion for a work not intended to be accomplished until after a long 
interval . 8 This preparation has in fact never ceased: it has been car- 
ried out in other modalities, of which the ‘suggestion’ applied to 
modern ‘seers’ and the organization of ‘apparitions’ of a very unor- 
thodox kind represent an aspect in which the direct intervention of 
subtle influences is most clearly shown; but this aspect is not the 
only one, and, even when it is a question of predictions apparently 
manufactured ‘from start to finish’, similar influences may very well 
come into play to no less an extent, firstly for the very reason that 
their original inspiration emanates from a ‘counter-initiatic’ source, 
and secondly because of the nature of the elements that are taken to 
serve as ‘supports’ to their elaboration. 

These last words are written with an example in mind that is 
quite astonishing, as much in itself as in the success it has had in 
many quarters; for those reasons it deserves rather more than a 
mere mention: the example is that of the so-called ‘prophecies of the 
Great Pyramid’, widely disseminated in England and thence to the 
whole world for ends that are perhaps in part political, but which 
certainly go beyond politics in the ordinary sense of the word. They 

8. Anyone who may be desirous of learning some details of this aspect of the 
question might usefully consult, in spite of the reservations that would have to be 
made on certain points, a book called Autour de la Tiare by Roger Duquet, the post- 
humous work of a man who had been fairly closely involved in some of the ‘under- 
ground’ work referred to above, and who wanted at the end of his life to give his 
‘testimony’, as he himself says, and to contribute to some extent to the unmasking 
of these mysterious undercurrents; the ‘personal’ reasons he may have had for 
doing this have no importance, and in any<ase clearly do not detract in any way 
from the interest of his ‘revelations’. [Full reference: Roger Duquet, Autour de la 
Tiare: Essai sur les propheties concernant la succession des papes du XHIe siecle d la fin 
des temps: Joachim de Fiore, Anselma de Marsico, St. Malachie, le ‘Moine de Padoue 
etc. (Paris: Nouvelle editions latine, 1997). Ed.] 


are closely linked to another piece of work undertaken in order to 
persuade the English that they are the descendants of the ‘lost tribes 
of Israel’; but here again it would be impossible to go into details 
without getting involved in developments that would be out of place 
here. However that may be, here is the gist of the matter in a few 
words: by measuring, in a manner not wholly free from arbitrari- 
ness (all the more so because nobody is in fact quite sure about the 
measures actually used by the ancient Egyptians), the various parts 
of the corridors and chambers of the Great Pyramid , 9 an attempt 
has been made to discover ‘prophecies’ in the form of correspon- 
dences between the numbers thus obtained and the dates of history. 
There is in this an absurdity so manifest that one cannot but wonder 
how it is that nobody seems to notice it; it only shows the extent to 
which our contemporaries are victims of ‘suggestion’, for even sup- 
posing that the constructors of the Pyramid really did build some 
sort of ‘prophecies’ into it, there are two things that would on the 
whole be plausible: either that the ‘prophecies’, which would neces- 
sarily have to be based on some knowledge of cyclic laws, should be 
related to the history of the world in general and of humanity, or 
that they should be adapted so as to deal more particularly with 
Egypt; but in fact neither turns out to be the case, for all the infor- 
mation extracted is in a form related to the point of view of Judaism 
in the first place, and of Christianity in the second, so that the only 
logical conclusion would be that the Pyramid is not an Egyptian 
monument at all, but a ‘Judeo-Christian’ monument! This alone 
should be enough to put this unlikely story into its proper place; 
but it is worth adding that the whole is conceived in accordance 
with a so-called ‘chronology’ of the Bible that is highly contestable 

9. The Great Pyramid is in truth not so very much bigger than the two others, 
especially than its nearest neighbor, so that the difference is not very striking; but 
without any very evident reason all the modern ‘seekers’ have been as it were ‘hyp- 
notized’ almost exclusively by this one; to it are always related all their most fanciful 
hypotheses, many of which could better be described as ‘fantastic’, including, to 
give only two of the queerest examples, one that attempts to find in its interior 
arrangements a map of the sources of the Nile, and another that makes out that the 
‘Book of the Dead’ is no more than an explanatory description of those same 


and conforms to the narrowest and most Protestant ‘literalism’, 
doubtless because the material had to be adapted to the special 
mentality of the environment in which it was to be chiefly circulated 
in the first place. Many other curious features could be noted: thus it 
appears that no date since the beginning of the Christian era can 
have been of sufficient interest to be recorded before that of the 
invention of railways; if that were so one would have to believe that 
these ancient builders brought a very modern perspective to bear on 
their appreciation of the importance of events; in this appears the 
element of the grotesque never lacking in that sort of thing, and it 
is precisely that which betrays their real origin: the devil is no doubt 
very clever, but he can never help being ridiculous in one way or 
another ! 10 

But this is still not all: from time to time, on the strength of the 
‘prophecies of the Great Pyramid’ or of other predictions, and as a 
result of calculations of which the basis is never very clearly defined, 
it is announced that such and such an exact date will mark ‘the entry 

10. Before leaving the subject of the Great Pyramid, attention should be drawn 
to another modern fantasy connected with it: some people attach much impor- 
tance to the fact that it was never finished; the summit is in fact missing, but all that 
can be said for certain about it is that the most ancient authors whose evidence is 
available, but who are nevertheless relatively recent, all describe it as truncated, as it 
is today; but it is a long step from this to the claim, as expressed word for word by 
an occultist, that ‘the hidden symbolism of the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures is 
directly related to events that took place in the course of the building of the Great 
Pyramid’; indeed, this is another assertion that seems singularly lacking in plausi- 
bility on all counts! It is a strange fact that the official seal of the United States bears 
the truncated pyramid, and over it is a triangle with rays, separated and isolated 
from it by a surrounding circle of clouds, but apparently intended to replace the 
summit. There are other decidedly strange details in this seal as well, and the 
‘pseudo-initiatic’ organizations rampant in America try to make good use of them 
by interpreting them in conformity with their own ‘doctrines’; they certainly seem 
to indicate an intervention by suspicious influences: thus, the number of the 
courses of the Pyramid is thirteen (this number reappearing somewhat insistendy 
in other features, notably that of the letters of which the motto E pluribus unum is 
composed) and is alleged to correspond to th.e number of the tribes of Israel (the 
two half-tribes of the sons of Joseph being counted separately), and no doubt this 
has some connection with the real origin of the ‘prophecies of the Great Pyramid’, 
which, as we have seen, tend to treat the Pyramid as a sort of ‘Judeo-Christian’ 
monument, for reasons that are somewhat obscure. 


of humanity into a new era or else ‘the coming of a spiritual 
renewal’ (we shall see later on how this must really be understood); 
several of these dates are already past, and it does not appear that 
anything very notable has happened; but what does all that sort of 
thing really signify? In fact, it is just another way of making use of 
predictions (additional, that is, to their use for increasing the disor- 
der of our times by broadcasting seeds of trouble and disorganiza- 
tion), and perhaps not the least important, for it turns them into an 
instrument of direct suggestion, thus contributing to the effective 
determination of the course of certain future events; for instance, to 
take a simple and easily understood example, does anyone believe 
that the repeated announcement of a revolution in a particular 
country at a particular time will not assist those who have an inter- 
est in its breaking out at that time? Underlying the present situation 
is the fact that certain people want to create a ‘state of mind’ favor- 
able to the realization of ‘something’ that is part of their plans; this 
‘something’ can no doubt be modified by the action of contrary infl- 
uences, but they hope that their methods will serve to bring it about 
a little sooner or a little later. It remains to be shown more exactly to 
what this ‘pseudo-spiritual’ enterprise is leading, and it is necessary 
to say, without meaning to be in any way ‘pessimistic’ (all the more 
so because, as has been explained on other occasions, ‘optimism’ 
and ‘pessimism’ are opposed sentimental attitudes which as such, 
must remain wholly outside the strictly traditional point of view 
adopted here), that the outlook for the fairly near future is anything 
but reassuring. 






The previous chapter was concerned with matters that, like 
everything else belonging essentially to the modern world, are radi- 
cally anti-traditional; but in a sense they go even further than ‘anti- 
tradition’, understood as being pure negation and nothing more, 
for they lead toward the setting up of something that can more 
appropriately be called a ‘counter-tradition’. The distinction 
between the two is similar to that made earlier between deviation 
and subversion, and it corresponds to the same two phases of anti- 
traditional action considered as a whole. ‘Anti-tradition’ found its 
most complete expression in the kind of materialism that could 
be called ‘integral’, such as that which prevailed toward the end of 
the last century; as for the ‘counter-tradition’, we can still only see 
the preliminary signs of it, in the form of all the things that are 
striving to become counterfeits in one way or another of the tradi- 
tional idea itself. It is as well to point out at once that, just as the 
tendency to ‘solidification’, expressing itself as ‘anti-tradition’, has 
not been able to reach its extreme limit— since that limit would 
have been outside and beneath all possible existence— it may be 
expected that the same will apply to the tendency to dissolution, 
expressing itself in its turn in the ‘counter-tradition’. The very con- 
ditions of manifestation, so long as the cycle is not entirely com- 
pleted, obviously demand that this should be so; and as far as the 
actual end of the cycle is concerned, it presupposes the ‘rectification’ 


whereby the ‘malefic’ tendencies will be ‘transmuted’ to produce a 
definitely ‘benefic’ result, as has already been explained above. 
Moreover, all the prophecies (the word is of course used here in its 
rightful sense) indicate that the apparent triumph of the ‘counter- 
tradition’ will only be a passing one, and that at the very moment 
when it seems most complete it will be destroyed by the action of 
spiritual influences which will intervene at that point to prepare for 
the final ‘rectification ’. 1 Nothing less than a direct intervention of 
this kind would in fact suffice to bring to an end, at the chosen time, 
the most formidable and the most truly ‘satanic’ of all the possibili- 
ties included in cyclical manifestation; but that is enough by way of 
anticipation, and it is now necessary to continue with a more care- 
ful examination of the real nature of the ‘counter-tradition’. 

For this purpose, the part to be played by the ‘counter-initiation’ 
must again be referred to: after having worked always in the shad- 
ows to inspire and direct invisibly all modern movements, it will in 
the end contrive to ‘exteriorize’, if that is the right word, something 
that will be as it were the counterpart of a true tradition, at least as 
completely and as exactly as it can be so within the limitations nec- 
essarily inherent in all possible counterfeits as such. Just as initia- 
tion is, as explained, the thing that effectively represents the spirit of 
a tradition, so will the ‘counter-initiation’ play a comparable part 
with respect to the ‘counter-tradition’; but obviously it would be 
quite wrong and improper to speak of the spirit in the second case, 
since it concerns that from which the spirit is most completely 
absent, that which would even be its opposite if the spirit were not 
essentially beyond all opposition; nevertheless opposition is 
undoubtedly attempted, and is accompanied by imitation in the 
manner of the inverted shadow previously referred to on more than 

1. To this truth is really related the formula ‘when everything seems lost, then it 
is that everything will be saved’, repeated in a sort of mechanical way by a consider- 
able number of ‘seers’, each of whom has of course applied it to something he can 
understand, usually to events of comparatively minor importance, even to such as 
are quite secondary and merely ‘local’, by virtue of the ‘minimizing’ tendency 
already mentioned in connection with the stories about the ‘Grand Monarch’, lead- 
ing to his being seen as no more than a future king of France; needless to say, real 
prophecies are concerned with affairs of quite different dimensions. 


one occasion. That is why the ‘counter-tradition’, however far it car- 
ries the imitation, will never succeed in being anything but a par- 
ody, but it will be the most extreme and the most gigantic of all 
parodies, and we have only so far seen, despite all the falsification of 
the modern world, some very partial ‘trials’ and some very pale 
‘prefigurations’ of it; something much more formidable is in prepa- 
ration for a future considered by some to be near, the growing 
rapidity of the succession of events today being an indication of its 
proximity. Needless to say, no attempt will be made here to fix on 
more or less precise dates, after the fashion of the followers of the 
so-called ‘prophecies’; and even if it were possible to do so through 
a knowledge of the exact length of cyclical periods (the main diffi- 
culty in such cases lying always in the establishment of the right 
starting-point to take as a basis of calculation), it would neverthe- 
less be proper to maintain the strictest reserve about the results, and 
that for reasons exactly contrary to those that actuate the conscious 
or unconscious propagators of denatured predictions, that is to say, 
in order not to run the risk of contributing to a further growth of 
the anxiety and disorder now reigning in our world. 

However that may be, the thing that makes it possible for affairs 
to reach such a point is that the ‘counter-initiation’ (and this is 
something that must be said) cannot be regarded as a purely human 
invention, such as would be in no way distinguishable by its nature 
from plain ‘pseudo-initiation’; in fact it is much more than that, 
and, in order that it may really be so, it must in a certain sense, so far 
as its actual origin is concerned, proceed from the unique source 
to which all initiation is attached, the very source from which, 
speaking more generally, everything in our world that manifests a 
‘non-human’ element proceeds; but the ‘counter-initiation’ pro- 
ceeds from that source by a degeneration carried to its extreme 
limit, and that limit is represented by the ‘inversion’ that constitutes 
‘satanism’ properly so called. A degeneration of this kind is obvi- 
ously much more profound than is that of a tradition merely devi- 
ated to a certain extent, or even truncated and left with only its 
lower part; something more is involved even than in cases of dead 
traditions so completely abandoned by the spirit that the ‘counter- 
initiation’ itself can make use of their ‘residues’ for its own purposes, 


as explained earlier. This leads logically to the thought that this 
extreme degeneration must go a very long way back into the past; 
and, however obscure the question of its origins may be, there is 
some plausibility in the idea that it may be connected with the per- 
version of one of the ancient civilizations belonging to one or 
another of the continents that have disappeared in cataclysms 
occurring in the course of the present Manvantara . 2 In any case it is 
scarcely necessary to say that as soon as the spirit has withdrawn 
itself it is no longer possible to speak of initiation; the representa- 
tives of the ‘counter-initiation are in fact as completely ignorant as 
ordinary profane people, and more irremediably ignorant, of the 
essential, in other words, of all truth of a spiritual and metaphysical 
order, for this truth has become completely strange to them, even in 
its most elementary principles, ever since ‘heaven was closed’ to 
them . 3 Since it can neither lead beings toward ‘supra-human’ states 
as can initiation, nor confine itself exclusively to the human 
domain, the ‘counter-initiation’ inevitably leads them toward the 
‘infra-human’, and the power to do so is precisely the only effective 
power left to it; it is only too easy to see that this is something quite 
different from the comedy of ‘pseudo-initiation’. In Islamic esoter- 
ism it is said that one who presents himself at a certain ‘gate’, 
without having reached it by a normal and legitimate way, sees it 
shut in his face and is obliged to turn back, but not as a mere pro- 
fane person, for he can never be such again, but as a saher (a sor- 
cerer or a magician working in the domain of subtle possibilities of 
an inferior order ). 4 It would be impossible to put the position more 
clearly; it is a question of the ‘infernal’ way trying to oppose the 
‘celestial’ way, and actually achieving the outward appearances of 

2. The sixth chapter of Genesis might perhaps provide, in a symbolical form, 
some indications relating to the distant origins of the ‘counter-initiation’. 

3. The symbolism of the ‘fall of the angels’ can be applied analogically to the 
matter in hand, which corresponds exactly thereto in the human order; and that is 
why the word ‘satanic’ can be used in its most precise sense in this connection. 

4. The last degree of the ‘counter-initiatic’ hierarchy is occupied by what are 
called the ‘saints of Satan’ ( awliya ’ al-shaytan) who are in a sense the inverse of the 
true saints ( awliya ’ al-Rahman)-, thus manifesting the most complete expression 
possible of ‘inverted spirituality’ (cf. The Symbolism of the Cross). 


opposition, although such appearances can only be illusory; and, as 
was pointed out earlier when speaking of the false spirituality in 
which some beings, who are engaged in a sort of ‘inverted realiza- 
tion’, lose themselves, this way can only end at last in the total ‘disin- 
tegration’ of the conscious being and in its final dissolution . 5 

Naturally, in order that the imitation by inverted reflection may 
be as complete as possible, centers are likely to be established to 
which the organizations appertaining to the ‘counter-initiation’ will 
be attached. These centers will of course be purely ‘psychic’, like the 
influences they use and transmit, and in no sense spiritual, like the 
centers of initiation and of the true tradition, but they will be able, 
for the reasons given, to assume up to a point the outward appear- 
ance of spiritual centers, thus producing the illusion characteristic 
of ‘inverted spirituality’. But there need be no cause for surprise if 
these centers themselves, and not merely some of the organizations 
that are more or less directly subordinated to them, are found to be 
engaged in struggles one with another, for the domain in which they 
are placed is the nearest domain of all to ‘chaotic’ dissolution, and 
therefore all oppositions are given free rein in it, and are not harmo- 
nized and reconciled by the direct action of a superior principle, 
necessarily lacking in such case. The result often is an impression of 
confusion and incoherence in everything connected with the mani- 
festations of these centers and their offshoots, and that impression is 
certainly not illusory; it is even a characteristic ‘mark’ of such 
things; they can only agree as it were negatively, in the common 
struggle against the true spiritual centers, insofar as the latter are sit- 
uated on a level at which such a struggle can take place, that is to say 
only insofar as they are concerned with a domain that does not 
extend beyond the limits of our individual state . 6 It is here that what 

5. A finality so conclusive of course represents only an exceptional case, which 
is that of the awliya’ al-shaytan ; the fate of those who have gone less far in the same 
direction is only that of being abandoned on a road that leads nowhere, to which 
they may be confined for the indefinity of an ‘jieon’ or cycle. 

6. From the initiatic point of view this domain is that of what are known as the 
‘lesser mysteries’; on the other hand, everything connected with the ‘greater mys- 
teries’ is essentially of a ‘supra-human’ order, and is thereby out of range of any 


can properly be called the ‘stupidity of the devil’ becomes apparent: 
the representatives of the ‘counter- initiation’ who act in this way are 
deluded into thinking that they are opposing the spirit itself, though 
nothing can really be opposed to it; but at the same time, in spite of 
themselves and unknown to themselves, they are really subordi- 
nated to it and can never cease to be so, just as everything that exists 
is submitted, albeit unconsciously and involuntarily, to the divine 
Will, from which nothing can escape. Thus they too are in fact being 
made use of, though against their will, and though they may them- 
selves hold an exactly contrary belief, for the realization of ‘the 
divine plan in the human domain’; 7 like all other beings they take 
the part in that plan that suits their nature, but instead of being 
effectively conscious of that part, as are the true initiates, they are 
only conscious of its negative and inverse aspect. Thus they them- 
selves are dupes, and in a way that is much worse for them than is 
the mere ignorance of the profane, since, instead of keeping them as 
it were at the same point, it has the effect of driving them ever fur- 
ther away from the principial center, until finally they fall into ‘outer 
darkness’. But if the affair is looked at, not in relation to these beings 
themselves, but in relation to the world as a whole, it must be 
allowed that they are necessary in the place they occupy as elements 
in that whole, like all other beings, and as ‘providential’ instruments 
(to use theological language) in the passage of the world through its 
cycle of manifestation, for all partial disorders, even when they 
appear in a certain sense to be the supreme disorder, must nonethe- 
less necessarily contribute in some way to the total order. 

These few considerations should make it easier to understand 
why the constitution of a ‘counter-tradition’ is possible, but also 
why it can never be otherwise than eminently unstable and almost 
ephemeral, but this does not prevent its actually being in itself, as 
was said earlier, the most redoubtable of all possibilities. It will also 

such opposition, since it belongs to the domain which is by its very nature abso- 
lutely closed and inaccessible to the ‘counter-initiation’ and to its representatives at 
all levels. 

7. Al-Tadab r al-ilahiyyah fi'l-mamlakat al-insdniyyah, title of a treatise of 
Muhyi’ d-DIn ibn al-‘Arabi. 


be understood that this is the goal at which the ‘counter-initiation’ 
really aims and has always aimed throughout the whole course of its 
activity, and that the merely negative ‘anti-tradition’ only repre- 
sented a necessary preparation. It now only remains to investigate 
rather more closely what can be foreseen, with the help of various 
concordant indications, of the modalities in which the ‘counter-tra- 
dition’ is likely to be realized in the future. 



From everything that has been said so far it is easy to 
deduce that the setting up of the ‘counter-tradition’ and its apparent 
momentary triumph will in effect be the reign of what has been 
called ‘inverted spirituality’; this last is of course only a parody of 
spirituality, imitating it so to speak in an inverse sense, so as to 
appear to be its very opposite; it appears to be its opposite, but is 
not really so, for whatever may be its pretensions no symmetry or 
equivalence between the one and the other is possible. This point 
must be insisted on, for many people allow themselves to be 
deceived by appearances, and imagine that there exist in the world 
two contrary principles contesting against one another for suprem- 
acy; this is an erroneous conception, identical to that commonly 
attributed, rightly or wrongly, to the Manicheans, and consisting, to 
use theological language, in putting Satan on the same level as God. 
There are certainly nowadays many people who are ‘Manicheans’ in 
this sense without knowing it, and this too is the effect of a ‘sugges- 
tion’ as pernicious as any. The conception concerned amounts to 
the affirmation of a fundamentally irreducible principial duality, or 
in other words, to a denial of the supreme Unity that is beyond all 
oppositions and all antagonisms; that such a denial should be made 
by adherents of the ‘counter-initiation’ need cause no surprise, and 
it may even be sincere on their part, since the metaphysical domain 
is completely closed to them: it is therefore all the more evidently 
necessary for them to propagate the conception and to impose it on 


others, for in no other way can they succeed in getting themselves 
taken for what they are not and what they can never really be, 
namely, representatives of something that could be put on a level 
with spirituality and might eventually prevail over it. 

This ‘inverted spirituality’ is thus in very truth only a false spiritu- 
ality, but it is false to the most extreme degree conceivable; false 
spirituality can be spoken of in every case in which, for example, the 
psychic is mistaken for the spiritual, without necessarily going as far 
as total subversion, and that is why the expression ‘inverted spiritu- 
ality’ is certainly best suited for designating total subversion, pro- 
vided that the way in which it must be understood is precisely 
specified. It is in fact identifiable with the ‘spiritual renewal’ the near 
approach of which is persistently announced by people who are 
often quite unaware of its real nature; or again, it is the ‘new age’, 
into which the present humanity is being driven by all available 
means , 1 and the general state of ‘expectation’ created by the diffu- 
sion of the predictions alluded to above may well contribute effec- 
tively toward hastening its arrival. The attraction of ‘phenomena’, 
already taken account of as one of the determining factors in the 
confusion of the psychic and the spiritual, may also play a very 
important part, for most men will be caught and deceived by it in 
the time of the ‘counter-tradition’, since it is said that the ‘false 
prophets’ who will arise at that time shall ‘show great signs and 
wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect .’ 2 

It is particularly in this connection that the manifestations of 
‘metapsychics’ and of the various forms of ‘neo-spiritualism’ may 
even now be taken as a sort of ‘prefiguration’ of what must happen 
later, though they only give a very slight idea of it. In principle, the 
action of the same inferior subtle forces will be involved, but those 
forces will be set to work with incomparably greater strength; and 
when one sees how many people are always ready blindly to place 

1. The extent to which the expression ‘new age’ has in these days been spread 
about and repeated in all quarters is almost unbelievable, with a significance that 
can often appear to be different in different cases, but it always tends positively to 
the establishment of the same persuasion in the mentality of the public. 

2. Matt. 24:24. 


complete confidence in all the divagations of a mere ‘medium’, 
simply because they are supported by ‘phenomena’, it is not surpris- 
ing that seduction will then be more general. That is why it can 
never be said often enough that ‘phenomena’ by themselves prove 
absolutely nothing where the truth of a doctrine or of any sort of 
teaching is concerned, and that ‘phenomena’ are the special domain 
of the ‘great illusion’, wherein everything that people so readily take 
to be signs of ‘spirituality’ can always be simulated and counter- 
feited by the play of the inferior forces in question. This is perhaps 
the only field in which the imitation may be really perfect, because 
the very same ‘phenomena’ (the word being taken in its proper sense 
of outward appearances), will in fact be produced in both cases, the 
difference lying only in the nature of the causes engaged in each. The 
great majority of men are inevitably unable to determine the nature 
of these causes, so that there is no doubt that the best thing to do is 
not to attach the slightest importance to anything ‘phenomenal’, or 
perhaps better still to regard it a priori as an unfavorable sign; but 
how can this be made comprehensible to the ‘experimental’ mental- 
ity of our contemporaries, a mentality first fashioned by the ‘scien- 
tistic’ point of view of the ‘anti-tradition’, and finally becoming one 
of the most potentially effective contributing factors in the success 
of the ‘counter-tradition’? 

‘Neo-spiritualism’ and the ‘pseudo-initiation’ proceeding from it 
are also from another point of view as it were a partial ‘prefigura- 
tion’ of the ‘counter-tradition’. Reference has already been made to 
the utilization of elements authentically traditional in origin, per- 
verted from their true meaning, and then to some extent brought 
into the service of error; this perversion is only a move in the direc- 
tion of the complete reversal that must characterize the ‘counter-tra- 
dition’ (the case of the intentional reversal of symbols dealt with 
earlier being a significant example); but at that time there will no 
longer be only a few fragmentary and scattered elements involved, 
because it will be necessary to produce the illusion of something 
comparable, indeed of something intended by its authors to be 
equivalent, to that which constitutes the integrality of a real tradi- 
tion, including its outward applications in all domains. It may be 
observed in this connection that the ‘counter-initiation’, although it 


invented and propagated for its own purposes all the modern ideas 
that together represent the merely negative anti-tradition’, is per- 
fectly conscious of the falsity of those ideas, and obviously knows all 
too well what attitude to adopt with respect to them; but that in 
itself indicates that the intention in propagating them can only have 
been the accomplishment of a transitory and preliminary phase, for 
no such enterprise of conscious falsehood could be in itself the true 
and only aim in view; it was only intended to prepare for the ulti- 
mate coming of something different, something that should appear 
to constitute a more positive’ accomplishment, namely, the 
‘counter-tradition’ itself. This is why one can already see sketched 
out, in various productions of indubitably ‘counter- initiatic’ origin 
or inspiration, the idea of an organization that would be like the 
counterpart, but by the same token also the counterfeit, of a tradi- 
tional conception such as that of the ‘Holy Empire’, and some such 
organization must become the expression of the ‘counter-tradition’ 
in the social order; and for similar reasons the Antichrist must 
appear like something that could be called, using the language of the 
Hindu tradition, an inverted Chakravarti . 3 

The reign of the ‘counter-tradition’ is in fact precisely what is 
known as the ‘reign of Antichrist’, and the Antichrist, indepen- 
dently of all possible preconceptions, is in any case that which will 
concentrate and synthesize in itself for this final task all the powers 
of the ‘counter-initiation’, whether it be conceived as an individual 
or as a collectivity. It could even, in a certain sense, be both at the 
same time, for there must be a collectivity that will be as it were the 

3. On the subject of the Chakravarti or ‘universal monarch’ see The Esoterism of 
Dante, and The King of the World. The Chakravarti is literally ‘he who makes the 
wheel turn’, and this implies that he is situated at the center of all things, whereas 
the Antichrist is on the contrary the being who will be situated furthest from that 
center; he will nevertheless claim to ‘make the wheel turn’, but in a direction oppo- 
site to that of the normal cyclic movement (incidentally, this is ‘prefigured’ uncon- 
sciously in the modern idea of ‘progress’), whereas in fact no change in the rotation 
is possible before the ‘reversal of the poles’, that is before the ‘rectification’ that can 
only be brought about by the intervention of the tenth Avatara ; moreover the Anti- 
christ will parody in his own way the very function of the final Avatara, who is rep- 
resented as the ‘second coming of Christ’ in the Christian tradition. 


exteriorization’ of the ‘counter-initiatic’ organization itself when it 
finally appears in the light of day, and there must also be a person 
who will be at the head of the collectivity, and as such be the most 
complete expression and even the very ‘incarnation’ of what it will 
represent, if only in the capacity of ‘support’ to all the malefic influ- 
ences that he will first concentrate in himself and then project onto 
the world . 4 He will obviously be an ‘imposter’ (this is the meaning 
of the word dajjal by which he is usually designated in Arabic) since 
his reign will be nothing other than the ‘Great Parody’ in its com- 
pletest form, the ‘satanic’ imitation and caricature of everything 
that is truly traditional and spiritual; nevertheless he will be made 
in such a way, so to speak, that it will be entirely impossible for him 
not to play that part. His time will certainly no longer be the ‘reign 
of quantity’, which was itself only the end-point of the ‘anti-tradi- 
tion’; it will on the contrary be marked, under the pretext of a false 
‘spiritual restoration’, by a sort of reintroduction of quality in all 
things, but of quality inverted with respect to its normal and legiti- 
mate significance . 5 After the egalitarianism’ of our times there will 
again be a visibly established hierarchy, but an inverted hierarchy, 
indeed a real ‘counter-hierarchy’, the summit of which will be occu- 
pied by the being who will in reality be situated nearer than any 
other being to the very bottom of the ‘pit of hell’. 

This being, even if he appears in the form of a particular single 
human being, will really be less an individual than a symbol, and 
he will be as it were the synthesis of all the symbolism that has been 
inverted for the purposes of the ‘counter-initiation’, and he will 

4. He can therefore be regarded as the chief of the awliya al-shaytan, and as he 
will be the last to fulfill that function, and at the same time his function will then 
have its most manifest importance in the world, it can be said that he will be as it 
were their ‘seal’ ( khatim ), according to the terminology of Islamic esoterism; it is 
not difficult to see from this to what point the parody of the tradition will be car- 
ried in all its aspects. 

5. Money itself, or whatever may take its place, will once more possess a qualita- 
tive character of this sort, for it is said that ‘no one can buy or sell unless he has the 
mark, that is, the name of the beast or the number of its name’ (Rev. 13:17), and this 
implies the actual use in connection with money of the inverted symbols of the 


manifest it all the more completely in himself because he will have 
neither predecessor nor successor. In order to express the false car- 
ried to its extreme he will have to be so to speak ‘falsified’ from every 
point of view, and to be like an incarnation of falsity itself . 6 In order 
that this may be possible, and by reason of his extreme opposition 
to the true in all its aspects, the Antichrist can adopt the very sym- 
bols of the Messiah, using them of course in an inverted sense ; 7 and 
the predominance accorded to the ‘malefic’ aspect, or, more accu- 
rately, its substitution for the ‘benefic’ aspect by the subversion of 
the double meaning of symbols, is what constitutes his characteris- 
tic mark. In the same way there can be and must be a strange resem- 
blance between the designations of the Messiah ( al-maslh in 
Arabic) and of the Antichrist ( al-maslkh ); 8 but the latter are really 
only deformations of the former, just as the Antichrist is repre- 
sented as deformed in all the more or less symbolical descriptions 
that have been given of him, and this again is very significant. These 
descriptions indeed particularly emphasize the bodily asymmetries, 
and this implies essentially that they are the visible signs of the 
actual nature of the being to whom they are attributed, for such 
things are in fact always signs of some interior disequilibrium; this 
is why certain deformities constitute ‘disqualifications’ from the 
initiatic point of view, but at the same time it can easily be imagined 
that they are ‘qualifications’ in the opposite sense, that is, from the 
point of view of ‘counter-initiation’. The very name of the latter 

6. Thus he will be the antithesis of the Christ saying ‘1 am the Truth’, or of a wall 
like al-Hallaj saying in the same wsy‘ana’l-Haqq\ 

7. ‘The analogy existing between the true doctrine and the false has perhaps not 
received sufficient attention: St. Hippolytus, in his little work on the Antichrist 
gives a memorable example of it which will not be surprising to people who have 
studied symbolism: the Messiah and the Antichrist both have as their emblem the 
lion.’ (P. Vulliaud, La Kabbale Juive, vol. n, P373) The profound reason from the 
kabbalistic point of view lies in the consideration of the two faces, luminous and 
obscure, of Metatron; it is also why the Apocalyptic number 666, the ‘number of the 
Beast’, is also a solar number (cf. The King of the. World). 

8. Here there is an untranslatable double meaning: Masikh can be taken as a 
deformation of Masiha, by the mere addition of a dot to the final letter; but at the 
same time the first word means ‘deformed’, which correctly expresses the character 
of the Antichrist. 


implies that it moves in opposition to initiation, consequently in 
the direction of an increase in the disequilibrium of beings, leading 
finally to the ‘dissolution or ‘disintegration’ previously referred to. 
The Antichrist must evidently be as near as it is possible to be to 
‘disintegration’, so that one could say that his individuality, while it 
is developed in a monstrous fashion, is nevertheless at the same 
time almost annihilated, thus realizing the inverse of the effacement 
of the ‘ego’ before the ‘Self’, or in other words, realizing confusion 
in ‘chaos’ as against fusion in principial Unity; and this state, as rep- 
resented by the very deformity and disproportion of his bodily 
shape, is actually at the lower limit of the possibilities of our indi- 
vidual state, so that the summit of the ‘counter-hierarchy’ is indeed 
the place that really befits him in the ‘world upside down’ that will 
be his. Furthermore, even from a purely symbolical point of view, 
and inasmuch as he represents the ‘counter-tradition’, the Antichrist 
is no less necessarily deformed: it has been explained that the 
‘counter-tradition’ can only be a caricature of the tradition, and 
caricature implies deformation; moreover, if it were otherwise, 
there would be no outward means of distinguishing the ‘counter- 
tradition’ from the true tradition, but the former must bear in itself 
the ‘mark of the devil’, so that at least the ‘elect’ may not be seduced. 
Besides this, the false is necessarily also the ‘artificial’, and in this 
respect the ‘counter-tradition’ cannot fail, despite its other charac- 
teristics, to retain the ‘mechanical’ character appertaining to all the 
productions of the modern world, of which it will itself be the last; 
still more exactly, there will be something in it comparable to the 
automatism of the ‘psychic corpses’ spoken of earlier, and like them 
it will be constituted of ‘residues’ animated artificially and momen- 
tarily, and this again explains why it can contain nothing durable; 
a heap of ‘residues’, galvanized, so to speak, by an ‘infernal’ will: 
surely nothing could give a clearer idea of what it is to have reached 
the very edge of dissolution. 

There seems to be no occasion to dwell further on these matters; 
it would be of little use in the end to seek to foresee in detail how 
the ‘counter-tradition’ will be constituted, and the general indica- 
tions already given should be almost enough for anyone who wants 
to devise for himself their application to particular points and any 

274 THE reign of quantity 

such attempt being in any case beyond the scope of the present 
enquiry. That enquiry has now been extended to the final stage of 
the anti -traditional action that must lead this world toward its end; 
between the fleeting reign of the ‘counter-tradition and the final 
moment of the present cycle there can only be the ‘rectification’, 
which will suddenly put back all things into their normal place at 
the very moment when subversion seems complete, thus at one 
stroke preparing for the ‘golden age’ of the future cycle. 



The various matters dealt with in the course of this study 
together constitute what may, in a general way, be called the ‘signs 
of the times’ in the Gospel sense, in other words, the precursory 
signs of the ‘end of a world’ or of a cycle. This end only appears to 
be the ‘end of the world’, without any reservation or specification of 
any kind, to those who see nothing beyond the limits of this partic- 
ular cycle; a very excusable error of perspective it is true, but one 
that has nonetheless some regrettable consequences in the excessive 
and unjustified terrors to which it gives rise in those who are not 
sufficiently detached from terrestrial existence; and naturally they 
are the very people who form this erroneous conception most eas- 
ily, just because of the narrowness of their point of view. In truth 
there can be many ‘ends of the world’, because there are cycles of 
very varied duration, contained as it were one within another, and 
also because this same notion can always be applied analogically at 
all degrees and at all levels; but it is obvious that these ‘ends’ are of 
very unequal importance, as are the cycles themselves to which they 
belong; and in this connection it must be acknowledged that the 
end now under consideration is undeniably of considerably greater 
importance than many others, for it is the end of a whole Manvant- 
ara, and so of the temporal existence of what may rightly be called a 
humanity, but this, it must be said once more, in no way implies 
that it is the end of the terrestrial world itself, because, through the 
‘rectification’ that takes place at the final instant, this end will itself 
immediately become the beginning of another Manvantara. 


While on this subject, there is yet one more point needing to be 
explained more precisely: the partisans of ‘progress’ have a habit of 
saying that the ‘golden age’ is not in the past but in the future; nev- 
ertheless the truth is that so far as our own Manvantara is con- 
cerned it is in the past, for it is nothing other than the ‘primordial 
state’ itself. There is a sense however in which it is both in the past 
and in the future, but only on condition that attention is not con- 
fined to the present Manvantara but is extended to include the suc- 
cession of terrestrial cycles, for insofar as the future is concerned 
nothing but the ‘golden age’ of another Manvantara can possibly be 
in question; it is therefore separated from our period by a ‘barrier’ 
completely insurmountable to the profane people who say that sort 
of thing, and they have no idea what they are talking about when 
they announce the near approach of a ‘new age’ as being one with 
which the existing humanity will be concerned. Their error, in its 
most extreme form, will be that of the Antichrist himself when he 
claims to bring the ‘golden age’ into being through the reign of the 
‘counter-tradition’, and when he even gives it an appearance of 
authenticity, purely deceitful and ephemeral though it be, by means 
of a counterfeit of the traditional idea of the Sanctum Regnum\ this 
makes clear the reason for the aforesaid preponderant part played 
by ‘evolutionist’ conceptions in all the ‘pseudo-traditions’, and 
although these ‘pseudo-traditions’ are still but very partial and very 
feeble ‘prefigurations’ of the ‘counter-tradition’, yet they are no 
doubt unconsciously contributing more directly than anything else 
to the preparations for its arrival. The ‘barrier’ recently alluded to, 
which in a sense compels those for whom it exists to confine them- 
selves entirely to the interior of the present cycle, is of course a still 
more insuperable obstacle to the representatives of the ‘counter-ini- 
tiation’ than it is to those who are merely profane, for the former 
are oriented wholly toward dissolution, and so they above all are 
those for whom nothing can exist outside the present cycle, and it is 
therefore more particularly for them that the end of the cycle must 
really be the ‘end of the world’ in the must complete sense that the 
expression can bear. 

This raises another related question on which a few words should 
be said, although an answer is really contained implicitly in some of 


the considerations previously dealt with, and it is this: to what 
extent are the people who most fully represent the ‘counter-initia- 
tion’ effectively conscious of the part they are playing, and to what 
extent are they on the other hand but the tools of a will surpassing 
their own and therefore hidden from them, though they be inescap- 
ably subordinated to it? In accordance with what has been said 
above, the limits between the two points of view from which their 
action can be envisaged is necessarily determined by the limits of 
the spiritual world, into which they can in no way penetrate; they 
may possess a knowledge of the possibilities of the ‘intermediary 
world’ as extensive as anyone cares to think, but this knowledge will 
nevertheless always be irremediably falsified by the absence of the 
spirit, which alone could give it its true meaning. Obviously such 
beings can never be mechanists or materialists, nor even partisans 
of ‘progress’ or ‘evolutionists’ in the popular sense of the words, and 
when they promulgate in the world the ideas which these words 
express, they are practicing a conscious deceit; but these ideas con- 
cern only the merely negative ‘anti-tradition’, which for them is but 
a means and not an end, and they could, just like anyone else, seek 
to excuse their deception by saying that ‘the end justifies the means’. 
Their error is of a much more profound order than that of the men 
whom they influence and to whom they apply ‘suggestion’ by means 
of those ideas, for it arises in no other way than as the consequence 
of their total and invincible ignorance of the true nature of all spiri- 
tuality; this makes it much more difficult to say exactly up to what 
point they may be conscious of the falsity of the ‘counter-tradition’ 
they aim at setting up, for they may really believe that in doing so 
they are opposing the spirit as manifested in every normal and reg- 
ular tradition, and that they are situated on the same level as those 
who represent it in this world; and in this sense the Antichrist must 
surely be the most ‘deluded’ of all beings. This delusion has its root 
in the ‘dualist’ error referred to earlier; dualism is found in one 
form or another in all beings whose horizon does not extend 
beyond certain limits even if the limits are those of the entire mani- 
fested world; such people cannot resolve the duality they see in all 
things lying within those limits by referring it to a superior princi- 
ple, and so they think that it is really irreducible and are thereby led 


to a denial of the Supreme Unity, which indeed for them is as if it 
were not. For this reason it has been possible to say that the repre- 
sentatives of the ‘counter-initiation’ are in the end the dupes of the 
part they themselves are playing, and that their delusion is in truth 
the worst delusion of all, since it is positively the only one whereby a 
being can be not merely led more or less seriously astray, but actu- 
ally irremediably lost; nonetheless, if they were not so deluded they 
would clearly not be fulfilling a function that must be fulfilled, like 
every other function, so that the Divine plan may be accomplished 
in this world. 

This leads back to the consideration of the twofold, or ‘benefic’ 
and ‘malefic’ aspect of the whole history of the world, seen as a 
cyclic manifestation; and this is really the ‘key’ to all traditional 
explanations of the conditions under which this manifestation is 
developed, especially when it is being considered, as at present, in 
the period leading directly to its end. On the one hand, if this mani- 
festation is simply taken by itself, without relating it to a much 
greater whole, the entire process from its beginning to its end is 
clearly a progressive ‘descent’ or ‘degradation’, and this is what may 
be called its ‘malefic’ aspect; but, on the other hand, the same mani- 
festation, when put back into the whole of which it is a part, pro- 
duces results that have a truly ‘positive’ result in universal existence; 
and its development must be carried right to the end, so as to 
include a development of the inferior possibilities of the ‘dark age’, 
in order that the ‘integration’ of those results may become possible 
and may become the immediate principle of another cycle of mani- 
festation; this is what constitutes its ‘benefic’ aspect. The same 
applies when the very end of the cycle is considered: from the special 
point of view of that which must then be destroyed because its man- 
ifestation is finished and as it were exhausted, the end is naturally 
‘catastrophic’ in the etymological sense, in which the word evokes 
the idea of a sudden and irretrievable ‘fall’; but, on the other hand, 
from the point of view according to which manifestation, in disap- 
pearing as such, is brought back to its principle so far as all that is 
positive in its existence is concerned, this same end appears on the 
contrary as the ‘rectification’ whereby, as explained, all things are no 
less suddenly re-established in their ‘primordial state’. Moreover this 


can be applied analogically to all degrees, whether a being or a world 
is in question: in short, it is always the partial point of view that is 
‘malefic’, and the point of view that is total, or relatively total with 
respect to the other, that is ‘benefic’, because all possible disorders 
are only disorders when they are considered in themselves and ‘sep- 
aratively’, and because these partial disorders are completely effaced 
in the presence of the total order into which they are finally merged, 
constituting, when stripped of their ‘negative’ aspect, elements in 
that order comparable to all others; there is indeed nothing that is 
‘malefic’ except the limitation that necessarily conditions all contin- 
gent existence, and this limitation as such has in reality but a purely 
negative existence. The two points of view, respectively ‘benefic’ and 
‘malefic’, have been spoken of earlier as if they were in some way 
symmetrical; but it is easy to understand that they are nothing of the 
kind, and that the second signifies only something that is unstable 
and transitory, whereas only that which the first represents has a 
permanent and positive character, so that the ‘benefic’ aspect cannot 
but prevail in the end, while the ‘malefic’ aspect vanishes completely 
because it was in reality only an illusion inherent in ‘separativity’. 
Nevertheless, the truth is that it then becomes no longer proper to 
use the word ‘benefic’ any more than the word ‘malefic’, for the two 
terms are essentially correlative and cannot properly be used to 
indicate an opposition when it no longer exists, for it belongs, like 
all oppositions, exclusively to a particular relative and limited 
domain; as soon as the limits of that domain are overstepped, there 
is only that which is, and which cannot not be, or be other than it is; 
and so it comes about that, if one does not stop short of the most 
profound order of reality, it can be said in all truth that the ‘end of a 
world’ never is and never can be anything but the end of an illusion. 


Adam 145 114 
agnosticism 103, 126 n2 
animism 179-181 
Antichrist 270-273, 277 
Aristotle 12-14, 16-17 
astrology 72 
Atlantis 132 

atom (ism) 8, 21, 32 n2, 48, 76, 

96, 122, 126 
atomic 49, 167 
Avatara 254 n2, 270 n3 
awliya al-Shaytan 263-264, 271 

awliya' al- Rahman 263 n4 

Basil Valentine 140 n9 
Bentham, Jeremy 111 n4 
Bergson(ian) 92-94, 115, 220-227, 

black magic 206 
Blake, William 30 mo 
Brahma 13 n 2 
Buddhist 63 

Cain and Abel 144-151, 160 
Cartesian 21, 31, 33, 77, 90, 92, 96, 
98, 103, 121, 180, 202 ni, 235 
castes 62-63, 146 n5 
Celts 107-108 
Chakravarti 270 
China 140 mo 
Chinese 8, 41 n2, 174 
Christ 270 n3, 272 n6 
Christian 56, 63, 100, 131, 258, 270 
n 3 

Christianity 257 

clairvoyants 115, 126, 247 
Compagnonnage 65 n3 
Coomaraswamy, A.K. 24-27, 30 
mo, 63 n2, 67 n5, 110 n2, 146 
n6, 182 n2 

dajjal 271 

democracy 51, 79, 82, 87, 199 
Democritus 96 

Descartes 20-21, 25, 31-32, 38, 50, 
89-91, 96-99, 166, 180, 194 
devil worshippers 183 
d’Olivet, Fabre 138 n4, 147 n8 
Druids 108 

dualism 77, 96, 98, 202 n i, 235, 
267, 277 

Duquet, Roger 256 n8 
Eckhart 67 n 5 

egalitarian(ism) 51, 66, 86, 91, 
199, 271 

Egypt 186 ni, 250, 257 
Egyptian(s) 250, 257 
Einstein 227 n 1 
empiricism 70 
Epicurus 96 

evolutionism 221, 276-277 

fetishism 181 
Fu Hsi 140 n9, 174 
fourth dimension 126-127, 160- 

Freud, Sigmund 227-228, 232 
Gog and Magog 173, 175 
Golden Dawn, Order of 224 n4 
Granet, Marcel 41 n 2 


Great Pyramid 256-258 
Great Triad 140 n 10 
Great White Lodge 249 
Greek(s) 12 m, 27, 30, 92 

al-Hallaj 272116 

Hebrew 28, 75 n 2, 147, 152-153, 

258 mo 

Hermetic 139-140 
Hermetism 168 

doctrine 11, 15, 57, 66, 140 
tradition 1, 12, 25, 28, 30 mo, 
139 n7, 142, 148 mo, 160 ni, 
172-3, 270 
Holy Empire 270 
humanism 103, 193, 197, 212 
hypergeometry 126 

individualism 8, 62, 90 
immanentism 239 
Iran 146 

civilization 56 
doctrine 242 n 1 
esoterism 263, 271 n4 
rites 157 n9 

tradition 139 ns 6 and 7, 160 ni, 

Israel 147, 153, 257-258 

James, William 220, 222, 226 
Jerusalem 147, 153 
Jews 145 n2, 227 ni 
Judaism 257 

Judeo-Christian 257-258 
Ka’bah 139 n7 

Kabbalah 28, 139 n7, 157 mo, 168 
n 2, 248 

Kabires 154-155, 157 

Kali-Yuga 1, 84, 132, 174 
Kant 36, 126 n2 
Kether 139 n7 

Leibnitz 30, 34 n4, 50-51, 76 n3, 
Locke 92 

Lokaloka 172 n 1, 232 n 6 
Louis XVII 254 n4 
lycanthropy 183 

MacGregor Mathers, S.S.L. 224 
n 4 

magic(ian) 153, 168, 181-183, 185— 
187, 206, 223-226, 234, 263 
magnetism 125, 169 
Mahdi 254 n2 
Manicheans 267 
mantra(s) 148 mo, 206 
Manvantara(s) 3, 42, 128, 132, 143, 
168 n2, 263, 275-276 
materialism 20-21, 96-101, 103- 
104, 106, 113, 117-118, 124, 149 
m2, 165, 169-171, 173, 180, 194- 
195, 197, 201, 215, 217, 219, 221, 

Melchizedek 150 ni4 
metapsychic(s) 170, 217-219, 229, 

Me tat r on 272 n7 
Moksha 64 
Montsalvat 160 n 2 
Muhyi’d-Dln ibn al-Arabl 63 ni, 
265 n7 
mula 16 ni 
muladhara 139 n7 
Myers 229 n3 

nama 12, 66 
nama-rupa 24, 63 
naturalism 239 

INDEX 283 

naturism 199 
necromancy 190 
Neoplatonic 27 

neo-spiritualism: see spiritualism 
Nirvana 64 
Niu-Koua 174 
nomadism 144-151, 227 m 
Nostradamus 255 ns 

occultism 124, 127 
Om 28 
ordo 27 n 4 

pantheism 239 
paradesha 163 
Pardes 163 
Pascal 80 

Philip the Fair 108 ni 
Plato 6, 14, 24 m, 29, 59 
Platonic 14, 27, 53, 59 
Pliny 135 ni 
positivism 103, 117 
pragmatism 105 
Prakriti 11, 15-16, 24, 140, 150 
Pr£au, Andre 233 n8 
Protestant(ism) 77, 89, 193, 212, 

Protestants 222 
Psychoanalysis 227-234 
Purusha 11, 24, 140, 150 
Pythagorean(s) 20, 29, 143 ni8 
Pythagorean numbers 5, 14 
Pythagorism 29 

radiaesthesia 125, 231 
Ramakrishna 158 m2 
Rationalism 89-95 
Rebis 140 n 9 
Renaissance 193 
Rg-Veda 30 
rita 27, 57 

Romans 92 
Rosicrucian 249-250 
ar-Rtih 139 n6 
rupa 12, 66 

Saint Thomas Aquinas 14, 19-20, 

75 ni 

Satan 4, 198, 241-242, 263 n4, 267 
satanism 183, 239, 262 
scholastic(s) 12-13, 15-18, 21, 23, 
45-47. 50, 67, 74-75, 91 n 3 
scholasticism 46, 75 n 1 
Schuon, Frithjof 146 n 6 
sedentarism 144-151 
serpent-worship 205 
Shaytan 188 n2, 242 ni 
shaman(ism) 177-184, 188 
Soma 150 n 14 

sorcery 153, 177-184, 206, 234 
spiritualism 123-125, 169, 215-219, 
226, 229, 235, 237, 241, 268-269 
statistics 68-73, 144 
superstitions 144 n 1, 178, 223, 226 
svadharma 57 
swastika 203 n3 
syncretism 245, 247-248 

Taoist 233 

Tarot 255 

Templars 108 n 1 

Tetraktys 143 n 18 

Theosophist(s) 124, 126, 223, 247, 


Torah 146 

totemism 182, 232 n7 
Tubalcain 148, 154 n6 

United States, seal of 258 mo 

Vedanta 84-85 
Vedic rites 150 n 14, 182 


Vishnu 28 

Vishvakarma 30 n 10 
Vulcan 154 n6 

Wagner 160 n2 
Waite, A. E. 224 n4 

Yama 160 ni 

yantra{s) 6, 148 mo 
Yeats, W. B. 224 n4 
Yoga 229, 233, 236 
Yugas 42, 143 n 18, 159 

zodiac 41 ni, 142 
Zoroastrian(ism) 154 ns 

LaVergne, TN USA 
07 January 2010 

1 69 1 73LV00002B/9/A 

9 " 780900 " 588679 ' 

R ene Guenon (1886-1951) was one of the great luminaries of the twentieth century, whose 
critique of the modern world has stood fast against the shifting sands of intellectual fashion. 

His extensive writings, now finally available in English, are a providential treasure-trove for 
the modern seeker: while pointing ceaselessly to the perennial wisdom found in past cultures 
ranging from the Shamanistic to the Indian and Chinese, the Hellenic and Judaic, the Christian and 
Islamic, and including also Alchemy, Hermeticism, and other esoteric currents, they direct the 
reader also to the deepest level of religious praxis, emphasizing the need for affiliation with a revealed 
tradition even while acknowledging the final identity of all spiritual paths as they approach the 
summit of spiritual realization. 

The Reign of Quantity and the Signs of the Times is Rene Guenons most prophetic work, which only 
becomes more relevant with each passing year. Having seen his telling analysis of Western culture, 

The Crisis of the Modern World, swiftly overtaken by events. Guenon based this his final and most pro- 
found critique squarely on changeless metaphysical principles. But to unite social criticism with 
metaphysics is to beget eschatology, and so, whereas in Crisis Guenon foresaw the end of Western civ- 
ilization, in Reign he presents us with the end of a vaster world-age, or Manvantara, that began before 
the dawn of history as we know it. 

Guenon bases his critique on abstract' principles, but his examples are satisfyingly concrete. His 
chapter The Degeneration of Coinage could easily be updated to include the transformation of 
money into a web of electronically-stored information, while in its treatment of the occult dangers of 
metallurgy The Significance of Metallurgy points directly to our own well-founded fear of such man- 
made elements as plutonium. And his Cracks in the Great Wall gives solid metaphysical grounding 
to our twentieth-century century demonology, including the UFO phenomenon. The Reign of 
Quantity presents a vision of the End Times that in no way contradicts traditional eschatologies, but 
is one key to their deeper meaning. 




The Col > ks oj Rene Guenon brings together the writings of one of the greatest prophets of our 

time, jvh< voice is even more important today than when he was alive. 

Huston Smith, The World’s Religions 

Man) Gi nons books, notably The Reign oj Quantity, are such potent and detailed metaphysica 
attack -nli downward drift of Western civilization as to make all other contemporary critiques. . 
seer; hal hearted by comparison. 

Jacob Needleman, The Sword oj Gnosis 
$ 21.95 

ISBN D-TDOSafl-bT-fi 



Rene Guenon The Reign of Quantity & the Signs of th<